State officials fine Nashville council member $360K for 36 campaign finance violations

This post was originally published on this site

Metro Council member Jonathan Hall is liable for $360,000 in civil penalties for three dozen campaign finance transgressions, state ethics and campaign finance officials decided Thursday.

Hall, who represents District 1, failed to file multiple mandatory financial reports on time — or at all — during election cycles in 2018 and 2019, according to a letter sent to Hall in December by Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance Executive Director Bill Young.

The letter lists 14 paragraphs of allegations against Hall, but Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance General Counsel Lauren Topping said Thursday that these allegations span 36 individual violations.

Of the financial reports Hall’s campaign did file, some lack required donor and vendor information and itemized expenses. Some contain unexplained discrepancies deemed “troubling” by Assistant District Attorney General Brian Ewald, who conducted a preliminary investigation into the complaints last summer.

“I’m not the first person to be late or be behind on documents being filed,” Hall said Thursday. “It’s something that happens when you’re going through this process and doing a lot of stuff. It happens. And that’s why I said it’s all about personal accountability, and I own that, 100%.”

Expenditures listed on Hall’s filed disclosure forms include $6,972 in “bank/cash withdrawals” and $4,160 for “Misc. Purchases.” Neither of these entries is itemized or lists a vendor.

“He’s been living out of this account like it’s his personal checking account,” registry member Tom Lawless said, referring to expenses listed on Hall’s disclosure forms as “Southwest” and “Firestone,” which combined total more than $500.

More: Campaign finance panel to subpoena Rep. Glen Casada, former top aide in audit of PAC

Registry member David Golden said the violations were “absolutely egregious” and Hall has “done pretty much everything he shouldn’t do on this topic.”

Neither Hall nor anyone representing Hall attended the Thursday morning hearing, where he would have had the opportunity to address the allegations against him. 

Hall said he would have conversations with registry members about why he didn’t attend Thursday’s hearing, but he hasn’t spoken with them previously and “can’t comment on something they said that I’ve not heard.”

Hall did attend a separate meeting of the Metro Board of Ethical Conduct Thursday afternoon, where board members set a hearing for Feb. 9. Hall said he will address specific expenditures in his rebuttal at that hearing.

He said he had not been in contact with any state officials but he did receive documents from the state prior to Thursday, though he could not say with certainty the exact date he received them. State officials say Hall failed to answer three letters requesting his response to the detailed allegations. Two of these letters were hand-delivered to the Metro Council office and Hall’s home.

Hall said he did not attend the state hearing Thursday because he did not want to disturb the “sequence” of the processes to remedy the infractions on local and state levels.

“This process supersedes or precedes that one,” he said. “It’s just an overlap in the dates. We’ll deal with this one and then we’ll use the process that’s still available to readdress that at the state level.”

The registry voted to impose the maximum $10,000 penalty for each infraction in part because Hall did not respond to state officials’ repeated attempts to communicate with him. 

“For me, it’s the blatant disregard … that calls for this,” Chair Paige Burcham Dennis said of Hall’s lack of response and the maximum penalty. 

The registry could not impose penalties for an additional five missing campaign financial disclosure reports because the Davidson County Election Commission failed to issue assessment letters to Hall. Topping said the election commission is working to remedy its processes, noting that the commission’s failure to issue assessment letters was “not limited to Mr. Hall.”

Hall will not be eligible to run for public office again until the penalties are paid and the campaign finance documents in question are submitted and corrected, though Hall said he’s not concerned that this will derail any future plans.

“That’s just part of the process, and the time period between now and then is vast,” he said.

Reach reporter Cassandra Stephenson at ckstephenson@tennessean.com or at (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.