TENNESSEE, USA — A federal grand jury in Nashville returned a five-count indictment charging Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey, 43, and Nashville social club owner Joshua Smith, 44, with violating multiple campaign finance laws as part of a conspiracy to benefit Kelsey's 2016 campaign for U.S. Congress.
At the start of a special session of the Tennessee Legislature Wednesday, Kelsey maintained his innocence and announced to senators he would be temporarily stepping from his leadership role as chair of the Senate Education Committee to focus on the legal battle.
According to the indictment, beginning in February 2016 and going through October 2016, Kelsey and Smith conspired with others to violate federal campaign finance laws to secretly and unlawfully funnel money from Kelsey's state campaign to his authorized federal campaign.
The indictment said Kelsey and others also caused a national political organization to make illegal, excessive contributions to Kelsey’s federal campaign committee by secretly coordinating with the organization on advertisements supporting Kelsey’s federal candidacy and to cause false reports of contributions and expenditures to be filed with the Federal Election Commission.
In 2016, the FECA limited campaign contributions to $2,700 from any one individual or organization to any one candidate in each election.
It is alleged that Kelsey, Smith, and other unindicted coconspirators orchestrated the concealed movement of $91,000 to a national political organization for the purpose of funding advertisements that urged voters to support Kelsey in the 2016 primary election.
It is also alleged that the conspirators caused the political organization to make $80,000 worth of contributions to Kelsey’s federal campaign committee in the form of coordinated expenditures.
Kelsey and Smith are charged with conspiracy, illegally transferring “soft money” (funds not subject to the limitations, prohibitions, and reporting requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act [FECA]) as a federal candidate and his agent, and illegally transferring “soft money” as a state officeholder and his agent. Kelsey is also charged with making excessive contributions to a federal campaign and accepting excessive contributions. If convicted, they face up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.
A summons has been issued by the Court and Kelsey and Smith are directed to surrender to U.S. Marshals in the Middle District of Tennessee on or before November 5, 2021, at 10 a.m. and both will make an initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate Judge.
Kelsey surrendered to U.S. Marshals Monday morning and was arraigned by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey S. Frensley and ordered to surrender his passport.
Kelsey has maintained his innocence.