Campaign Finance Scheme Results In 21-Month Federal Prison Sentence For Former Sen. Brian Kelsey

Image: Then Senator Brian Kelsey (right) with Governor Bill Lee Image Credit: Brian Kelsey / Facebook

The Tennessee Conservative [By Adelia Kirchner] –

Following an official sentence recommendation from federal prosecutors earlier this month, Former Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has officially been sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for campaign finance fraud charges.

The former lawmaker was a member of Tennessee’s General Assembly for 18 years and in October of 2021, was indicted for allegedly violating federal law by funneling more than $90,000 from his state campaign account to a federal campaign account connected to his failed 2016 congressional run. 


Kelsey was initially charged on five counts alleging a campaign finance scheme and pleaded “not guilty” to all counts.

That is, until November of 2022, when Kelsey requested a hearing to alter his plea and plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and another of aiding and abetting the acceptance of funds in excess of the $25,000 federal limit. 

Later on, Kelsey attempted and failed to convince the court to reverse his guilty plea back to “not guilty.”

In a court filing earlier this month, federal prosecutors made their sentence recommendation, hoping to make an example out of Kelsey and reduce instances of campaign finance fraud.

“A 41-month term of imprisonment,” they said, “would deliver a message to all who have the privilege of participating in campaigns for public office that no political victory is worth the risk of a lengthy term in federal prison.”

2023 Annual Campaign

On August 11th, 2023, Kelsey finally admitted guilt before the U.S. District Judge in charge of his case, Waverly Crenshaw, saying, “I’m Brian Kelsey, and I’m a felon.”

After a three-hour long hearing that featured testimonies from family friends in favor of the former lawmaker, Judge Crenshaw sentenced Kelsey to a 21-month sentence saying that Kelsey’s admittance of guilt was “better late than never.”

Kelsey’s legal team had been hoping for probation, pushing back against the federal prosecutors’ recent recommendation. 

Alex Little, Kelsey’s lawyer, argued that his client’s previous actions are so common in modern-day politics that others are rarely punished for doing exactly the same thing. 

“This is a regulatory crime, it is not a crime of corruption,” Little said to the Judge. 

However, Judge Crenshaw believed the sentence needed to carry just as much weight as Kelsey’s actions. 

“These actions were serious,” Judge Crenshaw said. “They were deliberate, and they are actions that deserve punishment.”

U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, Henry C. Leventis, made a statement on the official sentencing saying, “Brian Kelsey intentionally violated federal campaign finance laws and his oath as a state senator in order to deny Tennessee voters their right to make informed decisions about his candidacy for Congress.”

Kelsey’s wife was reportedly present at the hearing and was seen sitting in the front row, covering her eyes as the judge announced his final decision. The former lawmaker and his wife currently have three very young children at home. 

Judge Crenshaw ordered that Kelsey report to federal prison on or before October 20th of this year. 


Following Kelsey’s hearing, Josh Smith, Owner of The Standard Club in downtown Nashville and one of Kelsey’s co-conspirators, was sentenced to five years’ probation for his role in the campaign finance scheme. 

“I did it,” Smith said. “I broke the law and I am very sorry about that.” The Nashville business owner also made note of the fact that he brought his children with him to the hearing so that they could learn from his mistakes. 

According to Judge Crenshaw, Smith was “infatuated” with the various politicians who frequent The Standard Club and became “an unknowing pawn” that Kelsey used to accomplish his goals. 

Others of note who participated in the campaign finance scheme include Former Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) and Republican donor Andy Miller. According to the prosecution, both individuals received non-prosecution agreements in exchange for their cooperation. 

About the Author: Adelia Kirchner is a Tennessee resident and reporter for the Tennessee Conservative. Currently the host of Subtle Rampage Podcast, she has also worked for the South Dakota State Legislature and interned for Senator Bill Hagerty’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee. You can reach Adelia at

One thought on “Campaign Finance Scheme Results In 21-Month Federal Prison Sentence For Former Sen. Brian Kelsey

  • August 14, 2023 at 4:01 pm

    How sad. As a long-time financial supporter of Brian I always felt that he was a bright, articulate conservative with great potential. Indeed, it was that potential that I thought would be finally realized when I enthusiastically supported his run for congress that turned out so disastrously.

    We will always remember the good that Brian did while in the General Assembly. There is no one more responsible for the provision in our constitution prohibiting a state income tax than Brian as he oversaw that provision as it made its way toward passage. I hope that Brian will soon be released on early probation at which point he can once again rejoin his young family and rebuild his career.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *