After an uncomfortably tight primary victory, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has severed ties with longtime political adviser and ally Chip Saltsman. And the Tennessee Republican faces another round of questions from the Federal Election Commission over finance reporting.
Saltsman has been with Fleischmann since his 2010 congressional bid, in which he edged out former Republican Party Chairwoman Robin Smith in an aggressive primary campaign and later won the general election. Saltsman also served as Fleischmann's chief of staff during much of the Ooltewah Republican's first two terms and ran his 2012 re-election bid. After leaving Fleischmann's congressional staff last year, Fleischmann's campaign has paid Saltsman's consulting firm, S & S Strategies, $25,000, according to campaign finance filings.
But now, the Fleischmann campaign says Saltsman is completely out.
"He's been a valued member since Chuck first started running, and we recognize that. But the short answer is: No, he is no longer involved in the campaign," campaign adviser Brian O'Shaughnessy said Thursday.
O'Shaughnessy did not share details about Saltsman's departure. And phone messages to Saltsman last week were not returned.
But Fleischmann is not Saltsman's only client. Before joining with Fleischmann, Saltsman ran former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential bid.
Saltsman's website has not been updated since Aug. 20, when he announced he would leave State Rep. Joe Carr's congressional campaign team. Saltsman jumped that ship because Carr decided to challenge U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in the Republican primary.
Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer says Saltsman is a canny politico, and the split may not be permanent.
"I think people think [Saltsman's] a pretty darn good political operative. Whether he just, through his operation, had another campaign taking more of his time or what, we don't know," Oppenheimer said. "He's certainly not somebody you'd want to lose. If [Fleischmann] runs into another real primary challenge, he might wish he had Chip around again."
Meanwhile, Fleischmann's campaign has to answer another set of filings from the FEC over his finances.
After receiving several notices from the FEC over inaccurate or inappropriate contributions during the primary, Fleischmann's camp has been hit again with 10 findings involving $12,300 in excessive or illegal campaign contributions, and $37,056 in incorrectly reported disbursements.
According to FEC filings, some of Fleischmann's supporters appear to have given more than they are allowed by law, some corporate contributions were illegal, and Fleischmann's campaign moved money from one election to the other without following election law.
The filings also show Fleischmann's camp did not provide full information for the payments it made. Many of the $37,056 in distributions were for campaign aides and political strategy groups -- $13,000 of which went to Saltsman's S & S Strategies.
In an email Friday, O'Shaughnessy said the campaign was working through the filings and described them as "routine."
"We have given the FEC's request for additional information our full attention and will provide the FEC with complete and accurate information regarding our campaign finances," O'Shaughnessy said. "FEC requests for additional information are routine occurrences in campaigns, and our response, once filed, will be fully available to the public."
Fleischmann's Democratic opponent, Mary Headrick, also received a request for more information. But that request concerned a much smaller sum.
"Some of the addresses for the disbursements aren't there. When I ate at McDonald's on the campaign trail, I didn't get the address. Those are things that are really easy to fix," Headrick said. "I'm glad they are looking carefully. As much disclosure as possible is good."
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at firstname.lastname@example.org, @glbrogdoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.