PAC Under Scrutiny

PAC Under Scrutiny

As early voting begins in the city, complaints question the relationships among organizations run by a conservative political consultant.

by scott barker • August 17, 2021
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Two people active in Democratic politics have filed separate complaints about a political action committee run by a conservative consultant involved in five City Council campaigns.

The Knox County District Attorney General's Office investigates allegations of campaign finance violations.

Former Election Administrator Greg Mackay, who also unsuccessfully ran for a legislative seat as a Democrat in 2018, and retired Administrative Law 

Judge Mark Siegel filed the complaints against Scruffy Little City PAC regarding its financial disclosure information. The political action committee is one of several organizations run by Republican consultant Erik Wiatr. 

The complaints have been filed with the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office, which investigates local campaign finance irregularities.

Siegel’s complaint focuses on Scruffy Little City PAC’s associations with another of Wiatr’s organizations, Knox Liberty Organization, along with a PAC based in Middle Tennessee called Roving Patriots and the Knox County Republican Party. 

“The affiliations between Mr. Wiatr, Scruffy Little City PAC, and Knox Liberty Organization are clear, but have not been disclosed,” Siegel’s complaint reads.

Mackay’s complaint raises similar questions but is farther ranging, including queries about a business of Wiatr’s, Wind Consulting, and about the details of Scruffy Little City PAC’s financial disclosure forms. 

“I’m not accusing them of doing anything wrong,” Mackay said in an interview. “I just have questions.”

Wiatr, who is the principal in several entities funding political activities,  responded by calling the complaints “frivolous” and politically motivated. He said the organizations are not affiliated with one another because they have different missions and officers.

The actions come as voters go to the polls during the early voting period in the nominally nonpartisan city primary. Five district seats are on the ballot, and Wiatr is involved in the campaigns of conservative challengers in every race through his Scruffy Little City PAC.

In addition to working for candidates, Scruffy Little City PAC contributed to Roving Patriots, which subsequently sent out mailers attacking incumbent Council members Tommy Smith and Lauren Rider. Wiatr clients Elizabeth Murphy and Jim Klonaris are running against Smith and Rider, respectively.

Wiatr’s Knox Liberty Organization, which made the unsuccessful push to put a property tax cap referendum on the ballot, shares the same base of mostly Republican donors. 

State law requires that PACs disclose affiliations with other PACs. Wiatr disclosed no such affiliations with Knox Liberty Organization or any other PAC on Scruffy Little City PAC’s forms. 

“Despite the clear affiliations between the Knox County Republican Party, Scruffy Little City PAC, Knox Liberty Organization, and Roving Patriots PAC, and their coordinated efforts promoting the campaigns of Ms. Murphy and Mr. Klonaris, no disclosure of affiliation between the political action committees, as required by Tennessee law, has ever been made,” Siegel states in his complaint.

Much of Mackay’s complaint focuses on allegations of technical details, including the omission of a street address for Scruffy Little City PAC’s treasurer.

“I know better than most that election law can be very technical and difficult,” the former election administrator wrote in his complaint. “When you enter the public realm, however, you accept an obligation to adhere to it.”

Mackay also raised questions about an entity called Wind Consulting, which received $12,500 from Scruffy Little City PAC between March 11 and June 30. Wind Consulting, Scruffy Little City PAC and Knox Liberty Organization share the same Post Office box number.

Wiatr said the organizations he runs have separate officers and different missions. Scruffy Little City PAC is consulting with candidates, while Knox Liberty Organization has been focused on the tax-cap petition drive. 

“They’re completely separate,” he said. “There’s as much coordination as there is between (state Rep.) Jason Zachary’s PAC and (state Rep.) Justin Lafferty’s PAC. They probably share the same donors, but they’re separate.”

The Council candidates Wiatr works with pay Scruffy Little City PAC, which in turn pays Wind Consulting. Wind Consulting is Wiatr’s personal “doing business as” name (Wiatr is Polish for “wind”), he said. Payments to Wind Consulting essentially amount to his personal salary for the consulting work.

“I’ve followed the advice of my accountant on that,” he said.

Wiatr said he has filed more disclosure forms than required by law this year in an effort to be as transparent as possible.

In his initial response to Compass’ questions about the filings, Wiatr focused on Mackay, who has donated to the campaigns of incumbent Council members Seema Singh and Andrew Roberto. Mackay’s daughter is Singh’s campaign manager.

It's disappointing to see former Democrat candidate Greg Mackay, who donated to City Council candidates Seema Singh and Andrew Roberto, attempt to abuse transparency laws by filing politically motivated complaints against organizations that have been fully committed to transparency and accountability and have filed five reports this year above and beyond what is required by the law,” Wiatr said.

Mackay said he expected Wiatr’s response. “It’s common in politics when someone asks questions, you attack the messenger,” he said. “Every citizen has a right to ask questions.”