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Tennessee regulators revisit complaints about shadowy campaign group

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Posted at 1:25 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-08 14:29:38-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee regulators, following questions raised by a NewsChannel 5 investigation, have decided to revisit complaints regarding shadowy campaign activities surrounding a Middle Tennessee legislative race.

Registry of Election Finance officials issued notice Monday that the agency's board plans to reconsider its decision last year to take no action on complaints filed against Lewisburg Republican Rep. Todd Warner and a group that called itself the Faith Family Freedom Fund.

That same day, the Faith Family Freedom Fund filed paperwork to close out its political action committee, raising questions about whether it might be trying to sidestep further scrutiny from state regulators.

All of this comes as an FBI investigation focuses on a number of individuals connected with those campaigns.

As NewsChannel 5 Investigates first revealed, the previously unknown Faith Family Freedom Fund first appeared on the political scene in the summer of 2020, launching an advertising blitz against incumbent lawmaker Rick Tillis in that district's Republican primary.

The political action committee, which is supposedly operated by a former Vanderbilt University graduate who now lives in Utah, filed a report in July 2020 that claimed it had not raised or spent any money.

In fact, Facebook records showed the group had already spent money on digital advertising in its campaign to defeat Tillis in the Republican primary.

NewsChannel 5 also discovered that attack mailers sent out by the Faith Family Freedom Fund used the same postal permit number as mailers sent out by challenger Todd Warner's campaign.

Warner, whose home and offices were among those searched in January, has claimed that there was no connection.

Faith Family Freedom Fund later reported a $7,500 contribution from a Crawford Brandon, whose address was listed as a North Carolina post office box and who was identified as being employed as a "restaurateur."

FFFF's latest disclosure shows a $345 refund to a Brandon Crawford.

Efforts by NewsChannel 5 to locate individuals by those names were unsuccessful, and the North Carolina Restaurant Association said it had never heard of a Crawford Brandon or a Brandon Crawford.

Last December, the Registry voted to take no action on complaints filed against the Faith Family Freedom Fund and Warner by a Tillis supporter.

FFF's treasurer, Sidney Friedopfer, has not responded to repeated efforts by NewsChannel 5 to reach her.

The Registry of Election Finance meets on April 14th.

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