The Chattanooga Tea Party is raising questions about County School Board District 1 candidate Stephen Vickers's campaign finance report.
Officials said, "Recent analysis of Stephen Vickers’ campaign in District 1 shows 59.2% of undisclosed donors. This is a concern, as most campaigns typically have only 15%-20% of undisclosed contributor.
"We have contacted the election commission for a detailed list of these undisclosed donors; however, the commission was not able to provide the list and referred us to the District Attorney to obtain it from the campaign.
"Under Tennessee State law campaigns are required to keep detailed reports for the undisclosed funds “fish bowl” contributions for a number of legal reasons. The DA has the right to request this information from the campaign. A request is being made to the Hamilton County DA for this information.
"A key question we’ll be focused on: What percentage of Mr. Vickers’ contributions come from outside Hamilton County and special interest? The campaign has been found to violate state disclosure laws on their campaign signage "Paid for by committee to elect".
"These campaign finance accounting irregularities have spurred further investigation into the candidate’s ties to the teachers union - Hamilton County Education Association (HCEA) - and its lobbying PAC, Hamilton County Fund for Children and Public Education (special interest group) along with Hamilton United and its newly formed activist PAC. Stay tuned for a series of articles into these group’s leadership, members and activities. Parents need to know what’s happing in their public schools.
"During the Chattanooga Tea Party’s investigation items were discovered which raised more questions about Mr Vickers financial capability in managing the Hamilton County School’s budget of more than $400 million, based on court records. We also found Mr. Vickers received campaign contributions from Bassam Issa, developer and former president of the Islamic Center of Greater Chattanooga. Recently, Mr. Issa purchased the Sears/JC Penning facilities at Northgate Mall in Hixon and then tried negotiating a deal with the school board at a much higher price than the original purchase price for a new school. We have requested an investigation from the DA and TBI on how Mr. Bassam came to know that HCDE was in talks with the property owners prior to his deal and public knowledge."
Election officials said Mr. Vickers' campaign signs did not have the properly required wording and he was notified of the omission.
Rebekah Crase, campaign treasurer for Stephen Vickers, said, "I wanted to respond to the unfounded allegations made by the Chattanooga Tea Party concerning our donors. To offer full transparency, as of today we have had 365 donations totaling $12,269 from 300 individual donors. Some have chosen to give more than once. 359 of these donations were for $100 or less. State law does not require us to disclose the names of donors $100 or less.
"It seems that the Chattanooga Tea Party finds this concerning. They call them undisclosed donors, conjuring shadowy figures with nefarious purposes. Instead, our donors are every day taxpayers that live and work in Hamilton County. They gave less than $100 because that’s what they could afford. Why does the Chattanooga Tea Party fear a campaign funded by ordinary people?
"Of course, it wouldn’t be a school board race without teacher support. We have received many donations from teachers across Hamilton County. These teachers gave their hard earned money and we thank them for it. It is unconscionable that the Tea Party would demand their names. As a sixteen year incumbent, Rhonda Thurman has been a well-known bully with no qualms about retaliating against any teacher that might dare oppose her. She has had multiple ethics complaints filed against her and teachers are rightly concerned about their livelihoods should their names be published, particularly if Ms. Thurman once again wins her seat. The Vickers campaign will fight to protect their privacy. The Chattanooga Tea Party should focus their attention elsewhere."
Mr. Vickers said, "It is hard to understand why the Chattanooga Tea Party is so disturbed by small donations in a school board campaign. All campaigns aren’t created equal. Small elections like this are naturally going to be filled with donations by ordinary voters. At least, they should be. By contrast, 82% of the donations to the Rhonda Thurman campaign have come from large donors outside of her district, as well as a $5,000 donation from the Tea Party and private school backed Good Government Coalition. Does the Tea Party believe that only the wealthy should support their candidates of choice? Or that local campaigns should be primarily funded by political action committees?
"I have worked tirelessly to meet with and listen to the voters in D1. As a result, they have responded with enthusiastic support. There is no other story. The Chattanooga Tea Party is grasping at straws."