The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance on Wednesday claimed it was “armed” in the State House District 43 race and refused to investigate a complaint that Rep. Paul Sherrell had written checks to volunteer fire departments demanding cash back.
“We are asked here to assume that Mr. Sherrell is, on balance, a crook. We have to assume he’s conducting illegal activities,” said board member Tom Lawless of Sherrell buying ham breakfasts for firefighters, “for a bunch of guys who go out and risk getting their asses killed putting out a fire. ”
Lawless said he was certain Sherrell bought the firefighters “cereal and yogurt and not sausage and biscuits for protection.”
As a result, Sherrell’s opposition calls him a “thief, a liar and a crook”. And I’m sorry, that’s a weapon,” said Lawless, who called for the vote to take no action against Sherrell.
We are asked here to assume that Mr. Sherrell is, on balance, a crook
– Tom Lawless, Member of the Tennesee Registry of Election Finance Board
The registrar’s chair, Paige Burcham Dennis, agreed, saying, “People can’t use us to target candidates.”
Nevertheless, the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance asked Sherrell to make donations differently in the future and to document all donations.
“Find out in advance how many breakfasts you’ll be paying for … and have those papers ready,” said Bill Young, the office’s executive director.
The registry took up the matter based on an affidavit from Sparta-based Dale Walker, director of the Tennessee Pastors Network, who claimed Sherrell went to a ham breakfast at the Cassville Volunteer Fire Department, where he received a $100 check and asked for a refund of $90 in cash. Walker said he only filed the complaint after several people brought the matter to his attention, noting that the White County Sheriff had told Sherrell he needed to “clarify this.”
Sherrell, a Republican from Sparta, is running against Republican Bobby Robinson for re-election to the 43rd seat of the House of Representatives in August’s primary and could run against Democrat Cheryl Womack Uselton in November.
The registry made its decision based in part on Sherrell’s allegation that the complaint was being used against him in the campaign.
The Sparta Republican told board members during a phone call at his quarterly meeting that he contacted the board’s auditor as soon as the matter arose and told bureau officials that he was not “trying to cover things up.” .
In addition to a letter to Young stating that the money was not being used for personal expenses, Sherrell submitted letters to the register from the chiefs of the Eastland and Cherry Creek Volunteer Fire Departments, saying that on December 4, he died wrote checks from his campaign account. 2021, February 5, 2022, March 5, 2022 in Eastland and December 11, 2021 and February 12, 2022 in Cherry Creek and reclaimed cash and used the checks as receipts. The letters point out that most volunteer fire departments host between five and seven breakfasts a year on average.
“I would like your confirmation that I have attended most of the monthly breakfasts at the volunteer fire department mentioned above,” the letter reads.
He did not provide a letter from the Cassville Volunteer Fire Department, the source of the complaint. And nowhere in the letters did he claim to use the money repaid to pay for breakfast for firefighters or other voters.
Cassville boss Teddy Stockton told the Tennessee Lookout Tuesday that Sherrell wrote a check to the volunteer department to purchase breakfast and asked for and received $90 in cash.
When asked if he gave the firefighters the rest of the money to buy their breakfast, Stockton said, “I don’t think so, sir.”
Register attorney Lauren Topping told board members the question appears to be whether Sherrell will pocket some of the money recovered. She noted that the register has no evidence of how he used the money other than his statements.
Cookeville registrar Hank Fincher said people first came to him with the complaint about Sherrell and he told them to take the matter up with the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.
“The issue here is cash handling,” Fincher said. “Not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong or bad about it, but it’s just hard to fathom. …”
After a unanimous vote, Sherrell sounded like he was crying as he said, “Thank you and praise the Lord.”
However, during the discussion with the board, Sherrell said Walker visited his Nashville legislative office and was unkind to his administrative assistant. As a result, he “closely told Walker he wasn’t welcome in his office,” but apparently didn’t follow through on the remark.
“He’s not happy with me. He works against me. Yes, he lives in the area where my competition lives. I’m just trying to hopefully do my best and yes I make mistakes. And if I made a mistake, I’m sorry,” Sherrell said.
Asked for comment after the vote, Walker said he was “absolutely not” trying to use the registration plaque as a weapon against Sherrell. He declined to say which candidate he supports in this year’s election.
“I’m not a politician. I’m a pastor,” he said, repeating that he only filed the affidavit after numerous people told him that Sherrell was writing checks to volunteer fire departments asking for cash refunds. He added that he felt the register was the right place to answer their questions.
Walker said the registry should have investigated the complaint and subpoenaed all documents pertaining to Sherrell’s breakfast checks.
“It’s the kind of stuff that causes voters to have questions about the whole political process,” he said. “That’s why people don’t vote.”