Nashville voters may have to wait until after the Jan. 22 English Only special election to find out how the Nashville English First group has funded its controversial referendum campaign.
Leaders with the English Only referendum movement to make English the official language of Metro government would not say if they intended to file the group’s financial disclosure statement by today’s deadline when reached by the The City Paper this week.
In fact, according to Davidson County Election Commission employees, a representative from Nashville English First inquired about what the penalty would be if the committee missed the filing deadline.
Although Bellevue Councilman Eric Crafton and other leaders of Nashville English First have been extremely accessible to local media throughout the English Only process, multiple phone calls were left unreturned on the issue of meeting today’s disclosure deadline. Crafton told The City Paper he was merely the spokesman for Nashville English First and not responsible for issues like disclosing campaign contributions and expenditures.
Jon Crisp, former chairman of the Davidson County Republican Party and fellow leader of the English Only movement, failed to return multiple phone calls for this story.
The group filed a committee formation document with the Election Commission last year. The filing listed Lewis Lampley as the group’s treasurer. When reached by The City Paper Wednesday, Lampley said he had no comment on the “rumor” that Nashville English First intended not to file.
Last year, Crafton acknowledged Nashville English First had been supported by the advocacy group Pro English. The group was founded by Dr. John Tanton, who is allegedly tied to hate groups according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based non-profit that tracks hate crimes nationally.
Election law allows a five-day grace period before a $25 daily fine is issued for missing the filing deadline.
The group opposing English Only, Nashville for All of Us, told The City Paper it would meet today’s disclosure deadline. The group’s unofficial spokesman Mike Kopp said Nashville English First would be showing a lack of transparency if it missed today’s disclosure deadline.
“Let me emphasize we think it’s important that anyone participating in this process needs to respect the letter of the law and that’s why we intend to file and be transparent,” Kopp said. “It does raise a lot of concerns, I would think from a lot of people, any time you’re not willing to be transparent and up front about who’s involved in your campaign, how you’re conducting you’re campaign and where your support is coming from.”
A first-quarter disclosure is also due on April 10, but political committees are not required to file a statement at that point if there is a zero account balance on hand. The Election Commission mails out a certified letter alerting a campaign it has missed the disclosure deadline, but the fine period does not kick in until after the receipt is returned. That means Nashville English First could conceivably dodge lofty fines until after the Jan. 22 election.
“Election laws are put into place so the public can be informed about what’s going on behind the political curtain,” Kopp said. “The public has a right to know and the laws are there to be respect and not ignored.
“Specifically, does this mean they have ties to a group and they’re afraid to disclose those ties? And will those relationships have any bearing on how this plays out?”
While voters may be deprived of an opportunity to review how Nashville English First is funded, they will also miss an opportunity to see the English Only issue debated on Friday evening.
Nashville Public Television (WNPT-Channel 8) confirmed that Crafton had pulled out of a scheduled debate appearance with former Councilman David Briley. Crafton and Briley were scheduled to discuss English Only on Friday at 7 p.m. The show will go on, only without Crafton or another English Only supporter having the opportunity to plead their side, WNPT program manager Justin Harvey said on Wednesday.
Harvey said Crafton confirmed his appearance in December.
“We’re still hoping he will come and do it, and we left the door open, even for him to send another supporter,” Harvey said.
The Jan. 22 special election, for which early voting lasts until Saturday at the Howard School complex, will decide whether English becomes the official language of Metro government. The proposal would also state no individual has a right to services in other languages, although it does state Council may make certain exceptions for health and safety.
A wide-ranging opposition group, highlighted by Mayor Karl Dean and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, has blasted the proposal as divisive and sending the wrong message about the city.
Crafton maintains English Only is merely about whether voters want Council, board and commission business to be conducted in English.