One gave to Gore, one gave to 'Democrat PAC': Attacks continue in Tennessee GOP Senate primary

Bill Hagerty and Manny Sethi are seen in this combination photo.

NASHVILLE - Lawyers for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi's campaign are demanding Tennessee television stations yank an attack ad launched by a new Alexandria, Virginia-based super PAC, charging that the 30-second spot is "false and defamatory."

Standing with Conservatives' ad slams Sethi and charges he "donated to a Democrat PAC that supports progressives like Bernie Sanders. That's right. Manny Sethi supported a liberal group that advocates for abortion, gun control, taxpayer funded health care for illegal immigrants."

The political action committee is now spending $512,500, according to a Federal Election Commission filing, to slam Sethi, the Nashville trauma surgeon now locked in an increasingly ferocious Aug. 6 GOP primary nomination battle with former U.S. ambassador Bill Hagerty of Gallatin.

In his letter to news stations, Sethi's attorney Billy Stokes of Knoxville-based Stokes, Williams, Sharp, Cope & Mann wrote that Standing with Conservatives PAC is a "group supporting Ambassador Bill Hagerty" and "running a false, misleading advertisement on your station attacking Dr. Manny Sethi, who is also running for U.S. Senate. We ask you to cease and desist broadcasting the ad immediately."

The attorneys also wrote that in "2008, Dr. Manny Sethi's wife made a small donation of fifty dollars to a family friend running for office. Now this PAC and Bill Hagerty's campaign are attacking Dr. Sethi's wife over this donation."

As explained by Sethi's attorneys, the $50 political contribution was made through the ActBlue online site.

ActBlue operates an online fundraising platform and says its purpose is "to boost contributions by small donors for Democratic candidates, progressive organizations and nonprofits."

photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Dr. Manny Sethi meets informally with the editorial board at the Times Free Press on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Calling Standing with Conservatives' ad "patently false," the Sethi attorneys' letter states that "ActBlue, the PAC in question, is a credit card processor. Many candidates and organizations use it as a means of processing online donations. ActBlue collects, processes, and distributes money from donors to candidates. That is all. ActBlue does not make independent expenditures. ActBlue does not run commercials. ActBlue does not even make strategic contributions to candidates.

"In most Democratic primaries, all of the candidates use ActBlue to process donations. Simply put: ActBlue does NOT advocate. They are a conduit to candidates and nothing else. To say otherwise, as this ad does, is a lie," the letter adds, going on to warn that Sethi's campaign is "prepared to take immediate action if this false ad is not taken off the air immediately."

In its July 3 filing with the FEC, Standing With Conservatives PAC listed Lisa Lisker of Alexandria, Virginia, as treasurer. She is owner of Huckaby Davis Lisker Inc., which says on its website that it provides FEC compliance and political financial consulting.

Efforts by the Times Free Press on Monday to contact Lisker by telephone at her office and at home were unsuccessful.

In a series of tweets on Saturday, Jacob Rubashkin, a reporter and analyst for Inside Elections, which provides nonpartisan analysis and reporting on federal elections, looked at the ad and called it a "sterling example of how the opacity and complex nature of campaign finance can be easily twisted into an attack."

Rubashkin tweeted that "in reality, the subject of this ad is a $50 donation to moderate Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello, in 2008, long before Bernie Sanders was a household name. But the donation was processed through ActBlue's platform, as virtually all donations to Democrats and liberal groups are."

Last week, Hagerty's campaign went up with a new ad featuring a veteran who said "our flag reminds me of the patriots who gave their lives to defend America. Nobody should ever burn it, and I don't trust Manny Sethi to stop it."

The veteran charged that "Sethi has donated to the organization that has bankrolled these rioters, aiding liberal extremists. Tennessee deserves a senator who respects our sacrifices and honors our flag. That is why I support Bill Hagerty."

Sethi's campaign tore into Hagerty in its own ad, charging among other things that Hagerty donated $1,000 to then-Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore of Tennessee's 2000 presidential campaign.

FEC filings from the time show Hagerty gave $1,000 to Gore 2000 Inc. on Dec. 30, 1999.

Hagerty's campaign did not dispute that but said Hagerty also gave to the campaign of the presidential campaign's eventual victor, Republican President George W. Bush.

Hagerty worked in President Donald Trump's 2016 general election campaign and has been repeatedly endorsed by the president, who participated with Hagerty in a tele-conference call Friday night.

Hagerty, Sethi and 13 other candidates are competing in the GOP's Senate primary.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

photo FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2020 file photo former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty campaigns for the U.S. Senate in Gallatin, Tenn. In Tennessee's open race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a political group backed by a member of GOP candidate Manny Sethi's campaign is attacking his primary opponent Hagerty and Alexander, calling the two “liberal” and “best friends.” The Conservative Outsiders PAC says the video was sent to more than 300,000 Republican activists and supporters in Tennessee, and said it plans more videos, ads on multiple platforms and ground operations as permitted. The group also set up an anti-Hagerty website. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)