Registry board seeks order on Cothren’s subpoena objection
The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance is requesting a court order requiring Cade Cothren to explain why he refused to show up when subpoenaed to testify about a political action committee.
Represented by the State Attorney General’s office, the Registry board filed its request April 22 in Davidson County Chancery Court versus Cothren, the former chief of staff for ex-House Speaker Glen Casada.
In an audit/investigation of the Faith Family Freedom Fund political action committee, the Registry issued two subpoenas to Cothren, who it believed had “relevant” information and documents about the PAC.
Through his attorney, Cothren notified the Registry he wouldn’t comply with the subpoena based on “objections” to the Registry’s motivation and by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
A former girlfriend of Cothren’s testified before the board earlier this year that he persuaded her to organize the Faith Family Freedom Fund political action committee, which was used to funnel money to an independent campaign expenditure that attacked now-former state Rep. Rick Tillis in the 2020 election.
The Attorney General’s office contends neither objection by Cothren is “sufficient to excuse compliance” with the subpoenas.
The Registry has the ability to investigate and audit political campaign committees as well as subpoena witnesses.
Cothren “has not provided any information to support this claim that the Registry is acting in bad faith in carrying out its statutory duties,” the filing says. “Furthermore, Mr. Cothren is not the subject of an investigation or audit – the PAC is.”
The filing also contends Cothren can’t use a “blanket assertion of his alleged privilege against self-incrimination” to avoid testifying or producing documents. He would have to invoke the Fifth Amendment rights in response to each question asked, the filing states.
Cothren’s attorney, Cynthia Sherwood, did not respond to questions immediately. Cothren did not answer a text message.
When the Registry was discussing issuing subpoenas, board member Hank Fincher predicted Cothren would “go underground” and said if he doesn’t show up, the board would take action to have him arrested. A Cookeville attorney and former House member, Fincher said people act differently when they’re wearing “orange,” referring to jail jumpsuits.
Cothren left his post as chief of staff amid a racist and sexist texting scandal in 2019, not long before Casada stepped down as House Speaker following complaints about Cothren and a heavy-handed management style in the House. The House Republican Caucus gave him an overwhelming no-confidence vote.
Tillis, a political enemy of Casada and Cothren, was defeated by Republican Rep. Todd Warner, whose home and office were raided by the FBI in January 2021, along with the homes and offices of Casada and former Rep. Robin Smith.
Sydney Friedopfer, a former Vanderbilt student, told the Registry board in February she agreed to be treasurer of the PAC and help form it when she thought she was in love with Cothren. She said he told her to set up the PAC and he would run it, then urged her to avoid talking to the Registry board.
The Faith Family Freedom Fund used a donation from a North Carolina restaurateur, who has not been found by the Registry’s auditor, to pay for campaign literature critical of Tillis. A campaign worker for Tillis filed a complaint with the Registry board alleging illegal coordination between the PAC and Warner’s campaign, which was handled by Alabama-based Dixieland Strategies. It used a similar mode of operation as the Faith Family Freedom Fund and the same pre-sorted postal code, 383, out of Chattanooga.
In addition to having the AG’s Office pursue Cothren’s testimony and paperwork, the Registry board turned over the matter surrounding the Faith Family Freedom Fund, Cothren and Casada to the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office. Casada is running for the Williamson County Clerk’s position.
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