The Case against Williamson Strong
As many of our readers know, MoveOn.org is one of the most radical, far-left political activist groups around. In early May, Matt Magallanes started a MoveOn.org petition titled, “Protect Moms and public schools from rigged TN Registry.” The petition asks Gov. Bill Haslam to “Stop the Tennessee State Registry Office from persecuting Williamson Strong public education supporters.”
Mr. Magallanes claims the Registry is “rigged” and “politically motivated”—without offering proof of either—and describes the situation as “tragically unfair.”
The petition’s “NEW goal” seeks 200 signatures, but after more than 6 weeks there aren’t many takers. In fact, so far there are only 121 names on the petition. (Look for another “NEW goal” of 100 signatures to emerge in the near future, followed by Mr. Magallanes declaring victory at having reached his goal.)
This is not exactly an enthusiastic rallying of the troops. If only it were possible to buy petition signatures from Istanbul as easily as it was to buy Williamson Strong Facebook likes. Presto! He’d have thousands of signatures in less than a week!
You can see the petition and the names of those who are calling on our governor to subvert the normal court appeals process here.
Whether you agree or disagree with the Registry’s decision, they were doing their jobs and it’s disturbing to see the Williamson Strong people continue to bash them. To say the Registry is “rigged,” “politically motivated” and “persecuting” Williamson Strong is absurd and insulting. We can understand Williamson Strong’s desperation and why they would want to hedge their bets on the outcome of their appeal, but we have serious doubts that Gov. Haslam is going to intervene. And why should he?
Given all the maneuvering, trash talking and unsubstantiated charges against the Registry (not to mention the substantial legal expense Williamson Strong has incurred in its federal lawsuit and to keep the administrative appeals process going for more than a year through a high-flying law firm with ties to the Democratic National Party, Tennessee Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO —while claiming to have no money), we think this is an appropriate time to summarize the case against Williamson Strong and explain why we believe the Registry was correct in finding the group’s co-founders guilty of violating state election law.
In fairness to Williamson Strong, we want to point out that the Registry pulled back on its finding that the group engaged in spoilage of evidence and also dismissed a charge of failure to file a financial disclosure report. For everything else, the Registry apparently is holding firm.
In the past year and a half, we have written extensively about various evidential aspects of Williamson Strong operating as an unregister PAC. For the sake of brevity we are only going to hit the highlights, with lots of hyperlinks to previous posts for those wishing to have more details and/or to see documentation of our claims.
We begin with Williamson Strong’s contention that while the group encourages people to vote, as an organization, Williamson Strong does not endorse candidates.
In a May 30, 2014 email with the subject line “School Board Research,” Jennifer Smith, a Williamson Strong co-founder, asked WCS Board Member Rick Wimberly and WCS Superintendent Mike Looney for feedback on Williamson Strong’s candidate research.
The research lists candidates by district with notations after some of them, such as “NEEDS TO STAY ON THE BOARD” after Pat Anderson’s and Vicki Vogt’s names, and “TEA party, possibly homeschools her children per Bill Peach” after Beth Burgos’ name.
Mr. Wimberly replied to Ms. Smith, “Looks good. In my opinion, I would put Eric Welch on the get him re-elected list.”
- Why would Williamson Strong ask for recommendations from Mr. Wimberly and Dr. Looney if the group’s only interest was to encourage voting?
Furthermore, in a June 16, 2014 email, Williamson Strong’s Jennifer Smith, Susan Drury, Jim Cheney and Sarah Barnard offered campaign help, with Dr. Looney’s “blessing,” to selected school board candidates prior to the election stating, “It is our belief that you as current school board members and one new candidate should remain in/be elected into office.”
(As a side note, is it really appropriate for our superintendent to be “blessing” certain school board candidates who, if elected, will be responsible for holding him accountable?)
Apparently Brentwood Home Page misunderstood Williamson Strong’s intentions as well, because in a December 29, 2014 article Home Page writer Jessica Pace described Williamson Strong as “a group that openly supported incumbent candidates.”
- Did Williamson Strong ever seek a correction for this egregious error?
Williamson Strong initially claimed that the group has no money and has raised no money, yet later disclosed that they did in fact spend funds on Facebook likes (in violation of Facebook’s policy), as well as their website and phone banks.
A June 8, 2016 Tennessean article states that Williamson Strong also spent money on “voter information.” (We’d like to know more about that.)
Beyond the financial expenditures, we believe there also were significant unreported in-kind contributions from “Parents with skills [who] have pitched in to make a great website and a popular Facebook page.”
In addition, there are numerous other technologies listed on Williamson Strong’s website, the most intriguing of which is Rally.org, which urges users to “Raise money for what matters.”
In Williamson Strong’s own words, Rally.org “is used to collect and receive donations.”
- Why have technology to collect and receive donations if you don’t raise funds?
As we noted in a previous post, we also wonder how this group of “moms” can be eligible for its Google Apps for Nonprofits when Williamson Strong does not appear to have current 501(c)(3) status with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
Of course, we don’t know what other evidence the Registry may have considered—and neither does Mr. Magallanes and the 121 petition signers who are crying foul. But based on the facts we do know, we believe the Registry got it right.