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Tennessee state senator indicted in alleged campaign finance scheme

The Hill logo The Hill 10/25/2021 Mychael Schnell
a statue in front of a tall building: Tennessee state senator indicted in alleged campaign finance scheme © Getty Images Tennessee state senator indicted in alleged campaign finance scheme

Tennessee state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R) was indicted on Monday in connection with an alleged campaign finance scheme that sought to funnel money into his 2016 campaign for U.S. Congress.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) alleges that Kelsey, 43, along with Nashville social club owner Joshua Smith, 44, conspired to illegally transfer "soft money" - which refers to contributions that are made to political parties and political action committees and thus have fewer limits - from Kelsey's Tennessee state Senate campaign committee to his federal campaign committee.

Prosecutors also say Kelsey and others led a national political organization to make illicit, excessive donations to Kelsey's federal campaign committee by covertly working with the organization on advertisements that supported his federal candidacy, according to a statement from the DOJ. His actions also allegedly led to false reports of contributions and expenditures being filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

According to the indictment, Kelsey, Smith and others arranged the transfer of $91,000 to a national political organization to finance advertisements that bolstered Kelsey's 2016 campaign for the U.S. House. Additionally, the conspirators' actions allegedly caused the political organization to make $80,000 in coordinated expenditures to Kelsey's federal campaign committee.

Kelsey and Smith were charged with conspiracy to defraud the FEC, illegally transferring soft money as a federal candidate and his agent, and illegally transferring soft money as a state officeholder to his agent, according to the indictment.

Kelsey was also charged with making excessive contributions to a federal campaign and accepting excessive contributions.

Both men face a maximum of five years in prison if convicted. They are scheduled to make their first court appearances before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on Nov. 5.

The FBI is also investigating the case, according to the DOJ.

The Hill reached out to Kelsey for comment. When reached by The Hill, a representative from The Standard, the club Smith owns, said he will be unreachable until Friday.

Kelsey in 2019 said he was open to investigations into his campaign contributions, contending that the donations were lawful.

"I welcome any investigation because all donations were made in compliance with the law and on the advice of counsel," Kelsey previously said, according to the Tennessean.

Kelsey waged an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination in the race to represent Tennessee's 8th Congressional District.

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