published Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Ramsey not bowed by vote on fundraising

NASHVILLE -- Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Monday his 2010 gubernatorial fundraising was "obviously hurt" from the Legislature's failure to modify an existing ban on legislators raising campaign cash during the session.

But the damage is not insurmountable, he said.

"It's not a crippling blow, but I'd be less than honest if I didn't say it is a blow," said Lt. Gov. Ramsey, R-Blountville and the Senate speaker. "I knew all along I'd be outspent in this race. So I still have the goal I want to reach. I'll just have to reach it a little sooner."

But with the old law still in effect, he'll have to pick up his fundraising pace as a result, he said.

Under a 1995 law, sitting Tennessee legislators cannot hold fundraisers when the General Assembly is in session. Usually that time frame runs from January until it the session is finished or before June 1 in odd-numbered years and before May 15 in even-numbered years, whichever comes first.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey's legislative allies began pushing House Bill 198 after he entered the governor's race this spring. The bill sought to allow legislators running for nonlegislative offices, including governor, to raise funds while the Legislature is in session.

It failed in the waning hours of the legislative session Thursday in a 10-10 vote in the House Calendar and Rules Committee.

Tennessee-Common Cause Chairman Dick Williams said he opposed the changes and was "very happy" the bill failed.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they try to bring it back in January, although I think they may figure -- and some of the other candidates would figure -- the bad publicity is worse than the value of the money they would raise," he said.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey said he backed the bill because he believes there should be a "level playing field" among candidates. The 1995 law, which Lt. Gov. Ramsey helped sponsor while in the House, had a provision preventing wealthy candidates from dumping more than $250,000 of their own money into a campaign.

A state attorney general opinion later cast doubt on the "millionaire clause's" constitutionality.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey pointed out one of his GOP rivals, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, has the ability to self-fund if necessary and neither Mr. Haslam nor the two other major GOP candidates -- U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., and Shelby County Mayor Bill Gibbons -- are subject to the fundraising ban.

The bill also would affect Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, a declared candidate for governor, and Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, who has said he's considering a run.

Other candidates in the Democratic race include Nashville businessman Ward Cammack, who has indicated he will pour some of his personal wealth into the campaign if necessary.

Efforts to contact Sen. Herron were unsuccessful Monday, but Sen. Kyle, who had expressed doubts about the bill in April, said he had not been involved in trying to get it passed.

"I just thought the timing of the bill was inappropriate and therefore I stayed away," Sen. Kyle said.

He added that he'd "be surprised if they try to bring it back."

Haslam spokesman Jeremy Harrell chuckled when asked about the bill, but declined to comment. Wamp spokesman John Crisp did not return a call.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, a Wamp supporter, said he believes the failure of the bill to pass would help the Chattanooga congressman's congressional bid.

"I think it has to be good for Zach," Rep. McCormick said. "I don't think that's any big secret for people looking at this."

Ramsey finance team

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Monday announced the six statewide finance chairs for his gubernatorial campaign:

* Mike Curb, owner of Nashville-based Curb Records, former California lieutenant governor, former Republican National Committee Finance Committee chairman

* James Ayers, owner of FirstBank Tennessee in Parsons, Tenn., prominent businessman with holdings in a wide variety of businesses, including financial services and real estate

* B.C. "Scooter" Clippard, previously served as national fundraising chairman for former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson's 2008 presidential campaign and later as a national finance co-chairman for John McCain in 2008

* Albert McCall, Sr., owner of D.T. McCall and Sons, a Middle Tennessee furniture store chain.

* Jimmy Wallace, former state House member and current member of the State Election Commission.

* James Powell, president and found of Powell Cos., a Johnson City construction firm, recently completed a term as chairman of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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