Weston Wamp's use of GOP email questioned

Weston Wamp's use of GOP email questioned

March 28th, 2012 by Chris Carroll in News

Weston Wamp

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

On March 22, the Hamilton County Republican Party passed a policy that allows qualified candidates to use party resources to promote campaign events. Four days later, Weston Wamp requested help.

Staffers for Wamp, son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, used the county GOP's computer servers and master list of 2,700 email addresses to publicize an open fundraiser held Monday night in honor of the congressional candidate's 25th birthday.

The younger Wamp's opponents say the county Republican Party -- publicly neutral in a contested primary -- told them nothing about the new policy or how they could benefit from it.

Weston Wamp is one of four Republicans challenging U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, the man who succeeded Zach Wamp in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District.

Allison Brewster, Weston Wamp's aunt and Zach Wamp's sister, is vice chairwoman of the Hamilton County Republican Party and a member of the executive committee that approved the new policy.

Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Marty Von Schaaf said Brewster wasn't involved with writing the new policy or getting the word to her nephew's campaign.

"She was nowhere near this deal," Von Schaaf said. "She did not vote. ... That was not by any coaching from [me]. She had somewhere she had to go, and she left the building."

Several of Wamp's opponents, including Fleischmann, said no one told them about the new policy -- which they said could help their fundraising efforts -- and expressed disappointment at perceived favoritism.

"We didn't know this change was taking place," said Jordan Powell, a spokesman for Fleischmann. "Obviously, we assume we'll be notified in the future and afforded the same opportunity."

Ken Orr, campaign manager for Chattanooga real estate investor Ron Bhalla, went further.

"Individual officials within the Republican Party who retain the power to withhold common information should not exercise this unethical power," Orr said in a written statement.

Wamp campaign manager Bonnie Brezina said the campaign had no contact with Brewster about the new policy. Brezina issued a written statement in response to several questions.

"The local party will send out campaign-related material about public events or announcements for any candidate," Brezina wrote. "We submitted the request and appreciate the party's help in promoting Weston's successful event Monday night."

The Wamp campaign has declined to release a fundraising total for the evening.

On March 22, a quorum of executive committee members unanimously passed the following motion: "Party will forward event announcements from qualified Republican candidates and campaigns via email."

Previously, no written policy existed, Von Schaaf said.

Four days later, the Hamilton County Republican Party sent Wamp's fundraising invitation to its master email list recipients. The email included details about Wamp's birthday fundraiser and solicited a "$25 suggested donation."

"During a Primary process, the Hamilton County Republican Party does not support, endorse nor imply endorsement of any Republican candidate," said the email, which was sent from hcgop@hcgop.com.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press obtained a copy of the email Monday.

Von Schaaf said the county party never planned to notify the 3rd District candidates about the new policy, adding that most GOP fundraisers are private.

"If a candidate is hosting an open fundraising event," Von Schaaf said, "that qualifies as an 'event announcement' we'd promote. It's not just for the Wamp campaign. It's for anyone."

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LaShunda Hill, campaign manager for her mother, political science professor Jean Howard-Hill, said the campaign was "not notified."

"I'm not going to assume there was any foul play," she said

Tommy Hopper, campaign strategist for Athens, Tenn., dairy executive Scottie Mayfield, issued a statement.

"We have every confidence that the party and the Wamp family will do what's right," Hopper wrote. "Neither we nor the voters are concerned with this sort of inside politics talk."

Democrats in the race are Maynardville, Tenn., physician Mary Headrick and Chattanooga businessman Bill Taylor.

The primary is Aug. 2.