Melanie Balakit of the Tennessean reports that an Administrative Law Judge has ruled that Williamson Strong was not a political action committee (PAC) in the 2014 election cycle:
Williamson Strong was not a political action committee in a past school board election, according to an order released Thursday from an administrative law judge.
The order, written by Michael Begley, dissolves a fine that Williamson Strong had for failure to register as a PAC during a 2014 school board election.
The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance issued a $5000 fine, later reduced to $2,500, to Williamson Strong in 2015.
Williamson Strong posted this response on their Facebook page:
A former school board member filed a campaign finance against Williamson Strong in December 2014. 28 months later, we have been vindicated!
We’re still digesting the 19-page order from the Administrative Law Judge, but you can read it along with us.
“After consideration of this entire record in this matter, it is determined that the Respondents did not constitute a political campaign committee with respect to the 2014 election. It is therefore ORDERED that the Registry’s charges against the respondents are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.”
The order from the ALJ indicates the Registry failed to meet the burden of establishing Williamson Strong constituted a PAC for three reasons: The “express advocacy” standard, the functional equivalency test, and the media exception.
To summarize, the judge found that Williamson Strong did not engage in any “express advocacy” — they didn’t encourage the public to vote for or against any specific candidate or candidates. The judge also found that Williamson Strong did not act as the “functional equivalent” of a PAC. Finally, the judge found that Williamson Strong’s activity may have fallen under the “media exception.” That is, Williamson Strong was providing information to the public via a website and Facebook page just as a media outlet may do during an election cycle.
This order becomes final unless the Registry appeals within 15 days.
The ruling in this case is clear: Williamson Strong is not a PAC and certainly was NOT a PAC in 2014, despite claims by Susan Curlee and others to the contrary.
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