By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — The state is using its power against the Tennessee Firearms Association, says the group’s president, John Harris.
A division of Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office, specifically the Charitable Solicitations Division, is trying to force the TFA to register as a charity. Harris says the TFA, which is 19 years old and has thousands of members, is a political organization that, while offering information on firearms laws, is most certainly not a charity.
It’s payback, the TFA contends. The group helped defeat one prominent politician and almost brought down another.
DEAD AIM: Are Tennessee officials pointing all their ammo at one gun rights organization, over its political activities?
According to the division’s website, the charities branch of the Secretary of State’s office works to protect people from unscrupulous charities.
As a charity, Harris said, the division would have access to the TFA’s donors and other financial activities, access it doesn’t have now.
The division already slapped the TFA with a $5,000 fine for refusing to comply.
“There are politically powerful people in state government that would benefit if they had the IRS power to oversee and monitor what TFA is doing and how we raise our money,” Harris said.
“Now, another point to this strange set of facts. This action by the state came in a legislative year when TFA was particularly aggressive against incumbents.”
Members of the TFA have requested an administrative hearing to contest the charges.
Maggart told Tennessee Watchdog on Monday she knows Hargett, and has for years, but that she was unfamiliar with any of the TFA’s accusations against his office.
She dismissed those accusations with a laugh.
“Good grief,” Maggart said.
“It appears that Mr. Harris believes that he and his organization are the center of the universe. I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve not heard one living soul say anything about any of this.”
Sargent said Monday that he, also, was unfamiliar with the TFA’s accusations.
What does Hargett’s office have to say?
And why are members of the division requiring this now, when the organization has existed since 1995?
Secretary of State spokesman Blake Fontenay maintained the TFA meets all the criteria for a charitable organization and denied any political retribution is at play.
Fontenay said the division has treated the TFA no differently than any other charitable organization in Tennessee.
“There are thousands of organizations in Tennessee that are required to register with the division,” Fontenay said in an email.
“When the division becomes aware of unregistered organizations, it notifies them and attempts to assist them with registering. The fact that an organization may not have initially registered on its own accord does not mean that it was not ‘designated’ as a charitable organization.
Fontenay said he could discuss little else, as the TFA’s contested hearing over its $5,000 penalty is pending.
Fontenay did say, however, the division’s power to inspect the TFA’s financial records isn’t as broad as Harris makes out.
“There is nothing specific in the act that would require an organization to disclose donor names and certainly nothing in the registration process would require an organization to disclose its donors,” Fontenay said.
“The division does not monitor how charitable organizations spend every dollar. However, funds should be spent for the purpose for which they are solicited.”
Otherwise, Fontenay said, organizations could open themselves to allegations of soliciting money using unfair, false, misleading or deceptive means.
“We are not aware of a cease-and-desist letter being sent to an organization for inappropriate spending, although it is possible that similar correspondence may have been used as part of an investigation at one time.”
Contact Christopher Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org
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