Over the years, state Sen. Stacey Campfield has done a lot of notable—which is to say, publicity-generating—things, for which some people love him and others loathe him. His supporters think his service as a legislator has been good for the state. His detractors say the opposite. But no one can question that Campfield has indeed been a public servant—per se—serving on legislative committees, introducing more bills than anyone else most sessions, and promoting his agenda with a passion.
However, here’s what you can, and should, question—Campfield’s actual engagement in the community he serves. On Campfield’s official page on the Legislature’s website, he lists a number of organizations under “Community Involvement”:
The casual observer might assume that whatever Campfield’s politics might be, at least he’s active in helping others. But, as I found out, in most cases Campfield is grossly exaggerating his participation, if not making it up entirely. And it’s a pattern he’s been repeating for years. Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to pin down Campfield’s involvement with these organizations, most of which he also lists on his campaign website thusly:
Sen. Stacey Campfield, a Knoxville real estate re-developer who was first elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in 2004, has long been deeply involved in his community and currently is a member or past member or volunteer with a number of community organizations, including the American Red Cross, C.A.C., OMNI, the United Way, the Sertoma Center, Citizens Police Academy, the Read With Me Program, the Knoxville Traffic Calming Committee, Knox Heritage, and the Knoxville Education Summit.
In politics, Campfield has been involved with the Young Republicans, College Republicans, the West Knox Republican Club and the Concora[sic] Farragut Republican Club. [emphasis mine]
What I learned is that with the exception of the political groups, “past member” is the most accurate statement out of the bunch, and “deeply involved in his community” is hyperbole at best. Campfield was never involved with a number of groups and hasn’t been involved in others for years and years—and some of that “involvement” barely qualifies as community service. It also turns out Campfield has been misrepresenting other things, like honors ostensibly awarded to him, as well as his prowess in martial arts.
First, the groups with which Campfield is currently, regularly involved: As you might expect, the senator does often attend meetings of the four Knox County Republican groups as he claims. A couple of the groups have donated to his campaign over the years, and he has also returned the favor, most recently to the Young Republicans earlier this year. The outgoing president of the University of Tennessee’s College Republicans says Campfield has regularly spoken to the group (as has his opponent, Dr. Richard Briggs), and it has a number of volunteers working on his campaign. Campfield also attends meetings of the Norwood Homeowners Association semi-regularly when the Legislature is not in session. (Campfield’s residence is in Norwood; his rental property is not.)
According to Paul Berney, a longtime member of the Old Mechanicsville Neighborhood Interest (aka, OMNI) and Campfield’s cousin, Campfield did join the organization as a dues-paying member when he lived in Mechanicsville before moving to Norwood in 2003. Campfield still owns several rental properties in the neighborhood, but Berney says he doesn’t recall his cousin ever being active in the group or regularly attending meetings. He also notes the group is itself almost defunct, barely averaging one meeting a year.
Longtime members of the West Hills Community Association (not the “Westhills Homeowners Association” as listed on the Senate page) say Campfield has never been involved with them, other than occasionally stopping by the annual picnic or participating in a candidate forum sponsored by the neighborhood. Members of Wesley Neighbors Community Association—a smaller area within West Hills—say the same.
“Campfield has nothing to do with us,” says Sandy Robinson, who’s on the board of both organizations. When asked if he might have donated to either group, Robinson says, “Absolutely not!” She adds, “I never remember him attending anything.” Other members of the neighborhood groups offered similar statements.
Campfield also seems not to have been involved with the “Read With Me” program, which then-County Mayor Mike Ragsdale started in 2003. According to a Ragsdale staff member, the administration chose to “let it go” when Campfield first claimed to be involved because they didn’t want to be on the receiving end of his belligerence. But, says the former official, they “never would have let someone like Campfield into the elementary schools.” Campfield may have attended a year-end celebration, to which all local elected officials were invited, but that’s all anyone can remember. Knox County Schools employees involved with the program also have no recollection of Campfield’s involvement (although they have no records left proving anything either way).
There are other organizations where it’s hard to know if Campfield once was involved or never has been. The Knoxville Police Department has not been able to find records of Campfield attending its Citizens Police Academy, although staff hasn’t yet made it through the files from the 1990s. (If they find specific dates of attendance, I’ll update.)
The American Red Cross has new software that makes it impossible to look up records as far back as Campfield’s first election. But Ben Prijatel, the regional communications director for the Red Cross, says Campfield is not in the national or local donor database. He confirms that Campfield definitely has not been a volunteer in East Tennessee since 2007, and says no other staff member ever remembers him being involved. The new software system prevents Prijatel from seeing back further than 2012, but there’s no record of Campfield’s involvement anywhere in the country for the past two years. (It’s worth noting, however, that Campfield’s mother, Lee, actually is a ARC first responder and on the board of directors for a regional Red Cross chapter in upstate New York.)
The United Way also has newer software limiting access to old files. Campfield’s name is in the group’s database, so he has either volunteered or donated at some point in the past, but they have no way to tell which it was, or when it was. Campfield could have been an active volunteer for years, or he could have donated $25 once, in 2002—there’s no way to verify it either way. In any case, Campfield has definitively neither donated nor volunteered in the past four years.
Campfield did volunteer for the Sertoma Center—once. His colleague and the center’s executive director, state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, says that Campfield built a wheelchair ramp for one of the agency’s homes.
“But I don’t even know when it was,” Massey says. “It was absolutely before I was elected [in 2011]. ” She adds that the build definitely happened before she was running for office, and that Campfield has never donated to Sertoma and has not volunteered with the agency other than that one time.
Campfield also has donated to Knox Heritage twice, according to executive director Kim Trent, once in 2004 and once in 2006. But Campfield has never served on a KH committee, as his 2008 bio for induction into his high school hall of fame claims.
Campfield did serve on the City of Knoxville’s “Residential Neighborhood Traffic Safety Committee”—informally called the “Knoxville Traffic Calming Committee”—for an eight-month period in 2004.
It’s impossible to verify that Campfield attended the Knoxville Education Summit, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt; news reports at the time say 800 participants showed up to the one-time event, which happened in 2004.
Depending on what organization C.A.C. actually is, Campfield might have had involvement in it, or he might be making it up. Earlier bios of Campfield list involvement in “Children’s Advocacy Council” instead of “C.A.C.,” but there’s nothing by that name in Knoxville. So we called the Tennessee Children’s Advocacy Centers, thinking “Council” could be a typo like “Westhills.” The Knoxville location, the Childhelp Center of East Tennessee, has no record of Campfield’s involvement, and no idea to what “Children’s Advocacy Council” could possibly refer. I should note also that I looked through all of Campfield’s campaign finance records, and other than the Republican groups, I did not find any donations to any of the above organizations from 2002 until now.
As far as Campfield’s other “honors” and “accomplishments,” they seem to be equally out-of-date or specious. He did serve on the Whip Leadership Team—right after he won election to the Legislature in 2004. He was the Assistant Chairman of the Knox County Delegation of Legislators—right after he won election to the Legislature in 2004. He was appointed to the “House Republican Task Force on Budget, Government Efficiency and Lower Taxes” (not the “Tennessee Government Efficiency Task Force”) by Rep. Bill Dunn—right after Campfield started his first session in the Legislature in 2005—and he was off it by 2006.
And the “Friend of Taxpayers Award” Campfield claims to have won in 2004? He wasn’t even in office in 2004. In October of that year, Campfield was endorsed by what the News Sentinel called the “Tennessee Taxpayers Bill of Rights organization” prior to his election that year, which, according to the paper, was seeking “to add a formal Taxpayers Bill of Rights to local government charters and the state Constitution” that “would impose limits on government spending and generally require a voter referendum on tax increases.” (Never mind the Legislature adopted a Taxpayer Bill of Rights in 1992.) But no matter how much it may feel like one, an endorsement is not an award.
Campfield’s achievements in martial arts are also inflated. His high school hall of fame bio says, “Campfield has a black belt in karate, a third-degree black belt in judo and jujitsu and was named eighth in the world for judo in 2003. He is head coach of the Judo Club at the University of Tennessee.” Only pieces of that are true.
In 2004, Campfield told the News Sentinel he had “taught self-defense for more than 20 years,” which would have put him as an instructor at age 16.
In February 2007, Campfield claimed on his blog, “As most any one who has read my bio knows I teach Judo and Jujitsu in my spare time (For free) I enjoy the sport and have been around it for years(OK decades).” A decade, singular, maybe. According to this (unverifiable) local news story from 1998, Campfield’s first judo competition was in 1997.
There are three organizations that regulate judo instruction and competition in the United States. The first, the United States Judo Federation, has no record for Campfield at all in their membership database going back to the early 1990s. USA Judo is the largest organization and organizes the US Olympic team. The agency found Campfield’s name in its database, but the record shows that he never actually completed the registration process to be a member, which would have been required for the highest levels of competition.
The United States Judo Association, the third organization, did have a record of Campfield and confirmed he qualified as a third-degree black belt in 2001. His membership with them, however, has not been renewed since it expired in November 2003.
Campfield did assist the UT Martial Arts Club as an unpaid assistant instructor to then-coach Don Tyrell for several years, but he was never the “head coach.” The university doesn’t have records of club membership going back that far, but a current member and UT employee, Jason Rieger, said that Campfield was already active in the club when he enrolled at UT in 1998. Mike Takata, the club’s current coach, says he thinks Campfield left sometime around 2003. (Since that time, UT’s policy has also changed to limit club membership to current students and employees only.)
No one that practiced judo with Campfield in 2003 has any memory of him having an international rank, much less one as high as 8th. Neither does the International Judo Federation. In an email, the group’s spokesperson says, “We have carefully checked our statistics and we have no record about Stacey Campfield.”
“I don’t know him and I’m 99.9% sure that he wasn’t ranked top 8 in any international tournament, and for sure not in an international ranking,” adds the IJF’s statistics specialist at the bottom of the message.
I emailed Campfield about some of these issues weeks ago. I also emailed and called his legislative assistant, Zach Dean. I never got a response from either. Finally, late yesterday, Campfield actually answered a phone call from me, and here’s what he said.
Campfield first told me that just like Briggs is allowed to discuss his past military service, he’s allowed to discuss his past community service. I suggested that the comparison might not be quite apt, as Briggs served as a physician in multiple war zones and retired from the military as a Colonel. Campfield rebuffed me.
“I know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to do a last minute hatchet job,” Campfield said. (Never mind that I hoped to write about this before early voting started, and he wouldn’t reply to my emails.)
Campfield said he was involved with the “Read With Me” program in the second grade at Cedar Bluff Elementary, and he has documentation proving such, adding that Ragsdale and his staff are all liars. He offered to show me a certificate of participation (or something) last night; I said I could meet him this morning, and he agreed.
(Later, over a series of texts, Campfield changed his mind. He first said he couldn’t meet until tonight. I told him that wouldn’t work. He then said he’d show me the documentation after Election Day. Then he said he might try to find it earlier, depending on whether or not he found the content of my reporting about Briggs’ utility use in-depth enough. So I’m not holding my breath. If he does ever show me the information, I’ll update the post.)
During our phone call, Campfield also said he volunteered with the Red Cross as a lifeguard at the UT Aquatics Center around the time he worked there. According to UT records, Campfield was a paid employee at the Center from Oct. 18, 1999, until Jan. 30, 2000. When I mentioned that he only worked there a few months, he said, “Of course not, I was a volunteer. Volunteers aren’t paid!”
Then Campfield said that because he has bought architectural items to renovate his properties from Knox Heritage’s Salvage Room over the years, that counts as “being involved” with the organization more recently than his last donation in 2006. He also claims that he did go to several West Hills and Wesley Neighbors meetings “years ago,” and that qualifies as involvement on his part.
Then Campfield cut me off.
“I’m not saying anything more about this,” Campfield told me.
When I called him this morning for a quick quote about Briggs’ utilities, I again asked Campfield what C.A.C. was (as I had in the prior emails). He said it was the Community Action Council. I asked about the 2010 bio that mentioned a “Children’s Advocacy Council.” He said, “Well, I was involved in that too.” I asked him what the “Children’s Advocacy Council” was and where it was located. He sputtered.
“There’s about three different CAC groups I’ve worked with,” Campfield said. Which ones, I asked. “Look, these are all groups I’ve worked with in the past, and I don’t need to explain my involvement in them,” Campfield said. That was the end of the conversation. (I’ve since emailed the Community Action Council, by the way, and I’ll update this post if I find anything new out.)
I also asked Briggs if he had any comment on Campfield’s record. He said he didn’t have one, since he hadn’t personally seen documentation proving or disproving any of Campfield’s involvement.
For the record, I’ve been doing the same kind of fact-checking on Briggs’ resume. So far, his community involvement checks out. But if I find something that doesn’t, you better believe I’ll be posting it.