The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance is looking into a complaint that state Rep. Paul Sherrell wrote checks from his campaign account to local fire halls and asked for cash back, potentially pocketing it while campaigning this year.
Sparta resident Dale Walker, director of the Tennessee Pastors Network, filed the sworn complaint asking for an investigation into Sherrell’s campaign donations after speaking with Cassville Volunteer Fire Chief Teddy Stockton. Stockton told him that Sherrell wrote a campaign check to the fire department for $100 then requested and received $90 in cash back during a March 19 breakfast event, Walker said.
“Is this a cash-back scheme?” using tax-free money that should be for campaigning only, Walker said.
The pastor noted he filed the complaint only after being notified by several people that Sherrell wrote checks and got cash back.
Walker added that it would be similar to him writing a check to his church, “leaving God with $10,” and failing to show where he donated the rest.
In his complaint, Walker said the chief informed him the department has a copy of the check from the Sherrell campaign. Apparently irked by the incident, the fire department plans to adopt rules against cashing checks, according to the complaint.
Chief Stockton told Walker that Sherrell might have cashed checks at the Eastland and Cherry Creek volunteer fire departments, as well.
According to the complaint, Walker also spoke to White County Sheriff Steve Page, who told him in late March he had heard from “concerned citizens” about Sherrell cashing checks at local events. Page said he had spoken with Sherrell about the matter and told him he needed to “straighten this out,” according to the complaint.
Walker filed the complaint March 30, and it is to be discussed Wednesday by the Registry of Election Finance, which could set a show-cause hearing for Sherrell to explain his actions.
Sherrell defended himself in a letter to Bill Young, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance Ethics Commission, saying the cash received from the $100 checks was “not retained for personal use.”
“It was used to pay for breakfast/meals at campaign events,” Sherrell, a White County Republican, wrote.
Sherrell had $65,940 in his campaign account at the beginning of the first quarter of 2022, according to his latest filing.
He wrote two checks for $100 apiece listed as contributions to Eastland Volunteer Fire Department in February and March and $100 checks to Cherry Creek Volunteer Fire Department in February and Cassville Volunteer Fire Department in March.
Sherrell also made four $100 contributions in the filing period for the last quarter of 2021 but did not specify where the money went.
In addition, Sherrell spent $750 for research and polling and $500 in 2020 for advertising with Phoenix Solutions, a bogus company formed by Cade Cothren, the former chief of staff for ex-House Speaker Glenn Casada, that made money on Republican lawmakers and the House Republican Caucus and funneled funds to Casada and former Rep. Robin Smith.
Smith resigned this year before pleading guilty to fraud, according to federal documents. Casada and Cothren have not been indicted in the federal investigation.
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