Rep. Todd Warner under scrutiny over PPP loan, election complaints

Rep. Todd Warner

Tennessee regulators have decided to revisit complaints regarding questionable campaign activities surrounding the 2020 legislative race in which Todd Warner prevailed over incumbent Rick Tillis to represent House District 92 that covers Marshall and part of Franklin, Lincoln and Marion counties.

Registry of Election Finance officials issued a notice on March 1 that the agency’s plans to reconsider its 2020 decision to take no action on complaints filed against Republican Rep. Warner and the Faith Family Freedom Fund group. Coinciding with this, the Faith Family Freedom Fund filed paperwork to close out its political action committee, raising questions about whether it might be trying to avoid further inspection from state regulators.

Rep. Warner, the Chapel Hill State Representative who had his business and legislative offices searched by the FBI in January, received another $138,435 in federal COVID-19 relief funds later that month. These funds were in addition to the $149,630 he received in April 2019.

According to The Tennessean, Warner denied that any of the money he received under the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) had gone toward funding the $154,100 he loaned his campaign last year. “If I’m charged with it, I feel like I’m innocent,” he told The Tennessean.

The funds were issued to his contracting company, PCS of TN, that reported employing 16 people.

According to Eric Schelzig of The Tennessee Journal, Warner’s endowment drew attention during the race due to Warner having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a decade earlier, having been unable to pay $20 million in debts. Warner claimed he obtained the money for his political pursuits via an unrelated bank loan.

Warner, a businessman, received $149,630 under the PPP in April. He later loaned his campaign $154,100 in the process of defeating Rep. Rick Tillis in the August 6 primary, according to The Tennessee Journal.

“Warner told the paper he used the PPP money to cover allowable business expenses, while he separately borrowed the money he loaned his campaign from a bank,” The Tennessean reported.

“They question your integrity, whether you’re an honest man when you’ve been blown up and they say you’re bankrupt, which I have been in 2010,” Warner told the The Tennessean, adding he had since rebounded financially.

Warner’s company filed for federal bankruptcy protection when he couldn’t pay more than $20 million in debts during the Great Recession.

“It was a sad time,” Warner told The Tennessee Journal. “I hope we aren’t headed there again with the government giving all this money away.”

The reopening of Tillis’s complaint and the investigation into Warner’s second PPP loan follows a failure on Warner’s part to disclose fourth-quarter campaign finances by the January deadline. Warner claimed it was due to the confiscation of various materials by the FBI during its raid that he could not punctually disclose his finance report; however, The Registry of Election Finance recently ruled that it didn’t have the authority to give Warner an extension due to the law enforcement activity and instructed him to reconstruct his report from online filings.

According to the belated report, Warner’s top fourth-quarter donations were $1,500 each from the PACs of Amazon and House Speaker Cameron Sexton. He also received $1,000 each from CVS Health, the Marshall County Republican Party and Rep. Tim Rudd. Warner reported raising a total of $9,750 and spending $1,183 during that period.