By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Democratic Party accepted nearly $5,000 from three state Supreme Court justices up for retention next month and is using that money for voter contact services, according to online campaign finance records.
All three of the justices, meanwhile, gave nearly $12,000 overall for professional services to Victoria McCullough, whom Tennessee Watchdog previously identified as someone with strong partisan ties to Barack Obama, records show.
Justices Sharon Lee and Connie Clark, records show, gave a combined $7,500 to campaign manager Brenda Gadd, also identified by Tennessee Watchdog as someone with strong Democratic Party ties.
Those two justices, along with the remaining one, Gary Wade, have stated emphatically this campaign must remain apolitical and that politics and money have no place corrupting the judiciary.
Gadd and members of Tennessee’s Democratic Party didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
Carol Andrews, communications director for Keep Tennessee Courts Fair, said to represent the three justices, who has strong partisan ties to the Democratic Party, also didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.
Contact information for McCullough was unavailable.
Tennessee Watchdog hoped someone would explain precisely what “voter contact,” as described on the forms, means.
Susan Kaestner, leader of the nonprofit Tennessee Forum, which opposes the three justices’ retentions, said Wednesday she could only guess.
“It’s speculation on my part, but I’m guessing ‘voter contact’ means getting voter lists and mailing lists,” Kaestner said.
Tennessee Forum officials have previously said the three justices, all previously appointed by Democrats, no longer reflect red state Tennessee values — and not just because of political affiliation.
“When you look at their disclosures, the overwhelming vast majority of the people who give to the justices are lawyers and retired judges,” Kaestner said.
Tennessee Forum officials released a statement Wednesday calling foul on an announcement that 12 district attorneys throughout the state had endorsed the justices’ retention.
“The plain truth of the matter is that only one of the sitting district attorneys on their list can be considered unquestionably Republican,” Kaestner said, naming James Dunn of Sevierville as that person.
Kaestner listed the names of two other Republicans whom she said don’t have solid Republican credentials.
“This is a legal community, and the district attorneys are a part of it. I struggle with how all of it isn’t a conflict of interest to some degree,” Kaestner told Tennessee Watchdog.
As previously reported, McCullough, currently the development chief for the pro-Obama Organizing for Action, appears to work out of Washington, D.C., at least by her LinkedIn profile.
McCullough has also worked for Obama’s White House doing public engagement from 2011-2013 and was a regional field director for Obama for America from 2007-2008, according to LinkedIn.
Andrews, meanwhile, worked for Democrat Harold Ford during his unsuccessful U.S. Senate race in 2006, according to her LinkedIn page.
She also worked for another Democrat, former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle.
Gadd worked for former state Sen. Tommy Kilby and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, both Democrats.
Gadd also worked for the Tennessee Federation of Democratic Women’s Committee on Youth, according to a joint resolution state senators issued in her honor.
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