Union donation stirs campaign curiosity

Union donation stirs campaign curiosity

July 9th, 2010 by Chris Carroll in Politics

The leading fundraiser in the Hamilton County Commission races has a discrepancy in his campaign finance records, and his opponent wants to know what's behind the white-out.

Democrat Kenny Smith, District 8 County Commission candidate and Hamilton County School Board chairman, received $10,000 in two equal installments from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a labor union that represents workers in the public utilities industry, according to campaign finance documents.

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The first $5,000 contribution raises questions.

Records dated Jan. 15 show the money came from the union's national office in Washington, D.C., but on April 24, 10 days before Mr. Smith collected 382 votes to win an unopposed primary race, he filed a revised campaign financial document identifying the union's Chattanooga headquarters as the check's source.

A close look at the April 24 document shows evidence of white-out on the address form.

Tennessee Registry of Election Finance Audit Director Jay Moeck provided state records showing IBEW's Washington, D.C., office contributing the check to Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith said he filed a third report Thursday and changed the address back to the Washington, D.C., bureau. Those forms were not publicly available Thursday.

"I've never tried to hide a contribution," he said. "It was an oversight on the address. I've never tried to hide anything."

Officials from the local IBEW say all contributions to Mr. Smith's campaign came from Chattanooga.

"Our local contributions are sent to our international office in Washington," said Dwight Wilhoit, president of IBEW Chattanooga Local 175. "There's nobody in Washington that knows Kenny. (The money) came from Chattanooga ... you get back to the chicken or the egg."

Opponent speaks up

But the two changes have Mr. Smith's opponent wondering if the school board chairman is attempting to conceal national connections.

"If you can't be honest with constituents before you're elected, how can they trust you after?" asked Tim Boyd, Mr. Smith's Republican opponent in District 8. "He's playing around with state forms. It's not like he's a rookie in this."

Mr. Moeck said candidates caught with incorrect campaign finance forms can face civil penalties.

A second $5,000 IBEW check addressed to Mr. Smith was sent by the union on Feb. 23.

Mr. Smith wrote in his updated report that the check came from the union's Chattanooga offices on Volunteer Drive.

IBEW has not yet reported the second check to state election officials.

Its deadline to report the check is Monday.

Mr. Smith has received about 48 percent of his $56,723.59 in county race contributions from different trade unions spread across the country, according to his latest campaign finance disclosure.

Staff writer Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this story.