Hamilton County GOP lodges complaint against Democrat candidate

The Hamilton County Assessor of Property race is between Democrat Mark Siedlecki, left, and Republican Marty Haynes, right.

The local Republican Party chairman has filed a campaign finance complaint against the Democratic candidate in the Hamilton County Assessor of Property race.

Tony Sanders, Hamilton County GOP chairman, alleged Mark Siedlecki violated campaign state finance rules by exceeding the amount of in-kind contributions from his own company, Novare Digital Corp. The Siedlecki campaign describes the matter as a clerical error.

Sanders filed the complaint July 21, but announced it Thursday evening, two days before the end of early voting in the race. Siedlecki is running against Republican Marty Haynes for the open seat. Election Day is Thursday.

Sanders' complaint questions Novare Digital's $34,000 contribution to the Siedlecki campaign. Sanders cites state law prohibiting corporations from donating more than $250 to campaigns each quarter unless they have registered as political action committees.

"Running for public service is a privilege that comes with responsibility," Sanders said in his Thursday evening news release."It's abundantly clear that Mark Siedlecki has shirked that duty to the citizens of Hamilton County through the acceptance of illegal campaign contributions."

Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Tennessee Bureau of Campaign Ethics and Finance, said the agency received the written complaint July 25 and that its board would consider whether a violation occurred during its Aug. 1o meeting.

City Councilman Chris Anderson, who manages Siedlecki's campaign, said Friday nothing illegal occurred.

photo Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson listens during a council meeting Tuesday, July 7, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Three contributions should have been categorized as obligations instead of in-kind contributions in the campaign's financial disclosures, he said, adding that the campaign has addressed the matter with state and local election officials.

"We have spoken to the campaign and have been advised they are submitting an amended contributions filing," Hamilton County Elections Administrator Kerry Steelman said Friday.

In a Friday news release, Haynes described the Novare in-kind contributions as "no small mistake" and said he didn't find the Siedlecki campaign's explanation credible.

Anderson questioned the motivation of the complaint.

Sanders said Friday he had intended to wait until state election officials had acted, but made the announcement once media and other people started asking him about it.

"This was more about filing a press release than filing any complaint," Anderson said. "This is an attempt to distract from the issue of the senior tax freeze."

Although the Hamilton County assessor of property has no authority to implement such a program, Siedlecki has repeatedly challenged Haynes, a Hamilton County commissioner - on the issue.

If the commission adopted a senior property tax freeze, qualifying seniors making less than $38,720 potentially could avoid paying higher county property taxes. The Tennessee General Assembly gave counties and cities the option to adopt the program in 2007.

"If one senior citizen loses their home because they can't pay their taxes, we are not doing our job as citizens of Hamilton County to take care of these people," Siedlecki has said during recent candidate forums.

"I'm not opposed to [a senior tax freeze], but I'm not going to use it for political gain, either," Haynes said in late June.

Haynes has said several times that the County Commission has in effect given a tax freeze to all Hamilton County residents since it has not raised tax rates in nine years.

However, the senior tax freeze program also protects against higher bills due to increased property values.

Sanders equated Siedlecki's senior tax freeze platform to scare tactics and a "con on the seniors of Hamilton County."

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow on Twitter @pleach_tfp.