A House Republican leader is confirming the caucus paid an out-of-state vendor called Phoenix Solutions through the state Republican Party for campaign mailers after being assured the vendor wasn’t campaigning against sitting House members.
State Rep. Johnny Garrett, a Goodlettsville Republican who serves as whip for the House Republican Caucus and handles re-election and vendor work, said payments to Phoenix Solutions, a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based company, should be on the Republican Party’s disclosures with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. Reports don’t show that payment yet, but the deadline for the final set of disclosures is Jan. 25.
“… Our Republican Caucus used Phoenix as one of our mailing vendors, among others. They weren’t the only ones. They were not an exclusive mailer for the caucus,” Garrett told the Tennessee Lookout.
House Majority Leader William Lamberth directed questions to Garrett about a $48,000 payment to Phoenix Solutions.
The Republican Caucus campaign committee paid the Republican Party to purchase the mailers because it has nonprofit status and can get a discounted postal rate, according to Garrett.
Questions arose about Phoenix Solutions even before the FBI raided the offices and homes of former House Speaker Glen Casada, state Rep. Robin Smith, a former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, and state Rep. Todd Warner, a Chapel Hill Republican who defeated incumbent Rick Tillis in the GOP primary last year.
Tillis resigned as House GOP whip in September 2019 amid revelations he made critical comments about the Casada administration on an anonymous Twitter feed. He stepped down not long after Casada was forced out of the House Speaker’s post following a no-confidence vote by the House Republican Caucus, whose members were upset with his heavy-handed management and reports of sexist and racist text messages by his chief of staff, Cade Cothren,
Cothren, interim Chief of Staff Holt Whitt and legislative assistants Nadine Korby, who works in Rep. Kent Calfee’s office, and Carol Simpson, who works for Casada, are subjects of the FBI investigation as well.
Garrett said he did not know whether Cothren is connected to Phoenix Solutions, which used the same postal code as a group called the Faith Family Freedom Fund that sent out mailers against Tillis in his race against Warner. The new state representative from Chapel Hill hired Dixieland Strategies to handle his mailers, using a low bid, and it also used the same postal code as Phoenix Solutions and Faith Family Freedom Fund, according to reports.
Tillis’ campaign filed a complaint alleging illegal coordination between Warner and Faith Family Freedom Fund in the campaign, but the Registry of Election Finance declined to consider it.
“I don’t know that connection. I have been told that’s a possibility,” Garrett said of the Cothren. “At the time Phoenix Solutions was presented to me, I had zero knowledge of any connection to Cade Cothren. That was not represented to me, that he had any connection to Phoenix Solutions. Whether that is the way it exists now, I still don’t know.”
Rep. Smith, a Casada supporter, said after the raid she is not a target of the FBI investigation. Smith is believed to have directed Republican candidates to Phoenix Solutions, but she declined to discuss Phoenix in a recent interview with reporters.
Several lawmakers, in fact, used Phoenix Solutions in the 2020 campaigns, paying it in excess of $114,000. Smith paid the vendor more than $21,000, while Rep. Paul Sherrell of Sparta, Rep. Kent Calfee of Kingston, Rep. Dan Howell of Cleveland, Rep. Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain, Rep. Mark Hall of Knoxville and Rep. Charlie Baum of Murfreesboro used the company, according to reports filed with the Registry of Election Finance.
Garrett said he is concerned with questions about vendors used by the House Republican Caucus, as well as the FBI investigation and the possibility it could be looking into them. But he declined to comment on what the FBI investigation entails.
At the time the caucus campaign committee was engaging mail vendors, though, none of the ongoing questions were presented, he said. Garrett added he was assured by Matthew Phoenix of Phoenix Solutions that the vendor was not involved in the Warner-Tillis race.
“I talked to him, and in that conversation, I was led to believe I was not talking to anyone but Matthew Phoenix. I have no suspicions whatsoever. After that conversation, it didn’t seem to be that he was anybody else,” Garrett said.
Matthew Phoenix is not listed as the registered agent for Phoenix Solutions. The organizer is listed as Morgan Noble of 906 W. 2nd Ave., suite 100, in Spokane, Washington, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State website.
Leadership Pioneers, a political action committee formed with a $15,000 contribution from Rep. Smith, also paid Phoenix Solutions nearly $27,500 to make independent expenditures. Those paid for text messages for Rep. Mark White of East Memphis and new state Rep. John Gillespie of Bartlett, a political survey for Baum, printing for White, Gillespie, candidate Patti Possell of Cordova and candidate Elaine Davis of Knoxville, in addition to postage for four of the Republican candidates.
In addition to Phoenix Solutions, questions also are surfacing about Casada spending $27,793 with Bullet Proof Research, another new vendor, according to the Tennessee Journal.