published Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Bradley County sheriff claims opponent unethical; Eric Watson claims dirty tricks

Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth has filed a complaint with Tennessee's campaign ethics board against his Republican primary opponent, state Rep. Eric Watson.

In a letter to the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, dated Wednesday and distributed to media today, Ruth accuses Watson of acting “fraudulently,” “unethically and even illegally” by using money donated for his 2012 state representative race in his sheriff's campaign.

Ruth said Watson told people during his 2012 state race that he was going to run for sheriff in 2014.

“The point I am making is that Watson says he was running for sheriff all along and yet continued to collect thousands of dollars toward a state representative race,” Ruth wrote in the complaint.

Watson responded briefly by telephone while returning from the first week's session of the 2014 General Assembly in Nashville.

“They're going to run the same race against me they did in 2010,” Watson said, referring to Ruth's contest with Democrat Steve Lawson for the open seat. Both men in that race criticized each other for negative campaigning.

Back then, Ruth's campaign denied it had any connection to newspaper ads describing Lawson as “an Obama Democrat” and Ruth criticized Lawson for changes in the department's drug enforcement unit that actually were made by then-Sheriff Tim Gobble, among other allegations.

Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said in an email that it is legal to transfer money raised for one campaign to a later, separate campaign.

“You can transfer excess campaign funds which means funds that were raised for an election and that election has been completed so they are excess and can be transferred,” he wrote.

See more in Friday's Times Free Press.

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