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By Steve Hunley

Jennifer Owen, candidate for the Knox County Board of Education in the Second District, has officially filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service.  Mrs. Owen’s complaint involves an email sent by J. Laurens Tullock, President of the Cornerstone Foundation.  The complaint revolves around Tullock’s having sent an overtly political email using his official email system.  The Cornerstone Foundation enjoys a tax-exempt status, which according to IRS guidelines, prohibits political activity for organizations like his own.  Tullock was highly critical of Knox County Law Director “Bud” Armstrong and asked for contributions for Armstrong’s opponent.  Tullock, a strong supporter of departing school superintendent Jim McIntyre, also sought support for Reuben “Buddy” Pelot and Grant Standefer, candidates for the Knox County Board of Education in the Fifth and Second districts, respectively.

Tullock has admitted to sending the emails and acknowledged that he should have used his own personal email rather than that of the Cornerstone Foundation.  WHOOPS!  Interestingly, a similar incident occurred last year when Tracie Sanger was campaigning in the special election for a seat on the Board of Education.  In that instance, an email seeking campaign cash for Sanger went through a PTO organization, yet another tax exempt supposedly non-political organization.  WHOOPS!

In both cases, the offenders pleaded it was just an oversight, a simple mistake.  WHOOPS!

Yet these lapses of judgment have occurred in both campaigns and Sanger raised a staggering amount of cash for her campaign, largely from the business types that also donate to organizations like the Cornerstone Foundation and other tax exempt organizations.  WHOOPS!

These little missteps, supposedly innocent, have happened with regularity in the last two campaigns and Tullock is an attorney by trade.  One would think he would know the IRS guidelines and regulations by heart.  Tullock served briefly as an assistant U. S. Attorney and evidently he just wasn’t thinking when he sent out his endorsements and funding raising appeals.  WHOOPS!

This is what I refer to as the “Whoopsie” Defense.  Just a little innocent mistake, yet the fact remains these tax exempt organizations occupy that favored status precisely because they aren’t political.  Tullock has been around a very long time and cited his experience in his own defense, yet if anybody should have known better, it is Laurens Tullock.

The “Whoospie” defense sufficed during the last election cycle, but it shouldn’t this time.  Tullock attacked Law Director Bud Armstrong for Armstrong’s supposedly “political” decisions, yet he had the time to set aside his normal work and send out a fund raising appeal for his favored candidate.  Tullock and people like him claim there should be no hint of politics in the school system, yet clearly think the normal rules just don’t apply to them as they do for mere mortals.  WHOOPS!

The local news media, which is mighty good at stirring up a tempest in a teapot, largely won’t trifle with such things but the big boys should be held accountable just like everybody else.  WHOOPS!

Jennifer Owen, instead of meekly accepting whatever the establishment wants to dish out, stood up for herself.  Owen’s opponent, Grant Standefer, is the head of a tax exempt organization himself.  Standefer needs to state, and quickly, whether he approves of Tullock’s actions.  Just how many of these tax exempt organizations are participating in local politics?  Probably more than a few, especially when they are caught all they have to say is “whoops!”

Both the people of Knox County and the IRS ought to decisively turn down the ever-handy “whoopsie” defense.  As for Jennifer Owen, she has shown she has the fortitude to stand up for herself and her district.  It shows she is un-bought and un-bossed, which is precisely what is needed on the Board of Education.  We won’t be hearing “whoops” come out of Jennifer Owen’s mouth anytime soon.