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Tennessee Democratic Party, previous senate challenger, others respond to indictment of Brian Kelsey

Commercial Appeal Memphis logo Commercial Appeal Memphis 10/26/2021 Katherine Burgess, Memphis Commercial Appeal
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Leaders in the statehouse were largely quiet after news spread of Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey’s indictment in a campaign finance conspiracy alongside a Nashville social club owner.

Others expressed disappointment at the news that a federal grand jury had returned a five-count indictment charging Kelsey, 43, and club owner Joshua Smith, 44, with violating multiple campaign finance laws as part of a conspiracy to benefit Kelsey’s 2016 campaign for U.S. Congress. 

“The indictment of Republican State Senator Brian Kelsey is a reminder of the corruption that exists within our current politics, driven by campaign finance greed that often leads to unlawful activity,” read a joint statement from the Tennessee Democratic Party and the Shelby County Democratic Party. “The Kelsey indictment is concerning and speaks to the need for campaign finance reform to eliminate future crimes in our state and across the nation. If these allegations are true, it can’t be missed that Sen. Kelsey has been one of the most vocal advocates of a law and order agenda but has not held himself to those same standards.”

Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey responded to the news that he was indicted in a campaign finance conspiracy alongside a Nashville social club owner. © Commercial Appeal Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey responded to the news that he was indicted in a campaign finance conspiracy alongside a Nashville social club owner.

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Shelby County Commissioner Mark Billingsley, who represents Germantown and South Cordova, said he was “extremely disappointed” to learn of the indictment.

Chairman Mark Billingsley speaks Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, during a Shelby County Commission meeting at the Vasco A. Smith, Jr. County Administration Building in downtown Memphis. © Max Gersh / The Commercial Appeal Chairman Mark Billingsley speaks Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, during a Shelby County Commission meeting at the Vasco A. Smith, Jr. County Administration Building in downtown Memphis.

“Shelby County already has a host of challenges that we work toward improving every day,” Billingsley said. “I think it’s critical that we come together to be sure we are still being represented in Nashville. We need our legislators to help us with healthcare, public safety, economic development and education, and so I’m hopeful that no matter the outcome of this that we pull together to represent the citizens of district 31.”

More: Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey calls federal indictment 'political witch hunt,' claims innocence

When Kelsey said that President Joe Biden's administration was trying to take him down in a "political witch hunt," Tennessee Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, tweeted, "Um, excuse me, this investigation started under trump. I’m pretty sure lying is what got you here my dude, may want to try something new. #justsayin"

Gabby Salinas, who ran unsuccessfully against Kelsey in the 2018 election, also tweeted about Kelsey's indictment. 

"We are a country of laws & no one is above the law, not even a state senator, we must let the legal process take place. The @BrianKelsey  indictments are concerning & speak to the need for campaign finance reform. Our leadership will be following new developments closely," Salinas tweeted. 

State Senate candidate Gabby Salinas talks with supporters during her watch party Tuesday night in Memphis. © Ariel Cobbert / The Commercial Appeal State Senate candidate Gabby Salinas talks with supporters during her watch party Tuesday night in Memphis.

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer linked Kelsey's indictment to that of State Sen. Katrina Robinson. 

"I'll be waiting for all the smoke y'all gave Katrina to be sent Brian Kelsey's way..." tweeted Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer.

Robinson was accused of using $600,000 in government grants to her nursing school business, The Healthcare Institute, for personal expenses. However, after a federal judge tossed 15 of the 20 charges against Robinson, the jury convicted Robinson of four counts of wire fraud. The money involved in the remaining charges amounted to less than $3,500. 

Robinson declined to comment through her attorney on Kelsey's indictment. 

Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at katherine.burgess@commercialappeal.com, 901-529-2799 or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Tennessee Democratic Party, previous senate challenger, others respond to indictment of Brian Kelsey

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