published Friday, February 12th, 2010

Haslam challenged over income tax returns

  • photo
    Prosecutor Bill Gibbons, a Republican from Memphis, left, questions Republican Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam's fiscal transparency during the gubernatorial candidate forum at the Tennessee Press Association's annual winter meeting in Nashville, Tenn. on Thursday, February 11, 2010. (AP Photo/Josh Anderson)
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Gubernatorial candidates' forum

NASHVILLE -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam came under fire from two GOP rivals Thursday for his refusal to release income tax returns.

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., and Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons stepped up their previous criticisms during a gubernatorial candidates' forum hosted by the Tennessee Press Association and The Associated Press.

Mr. Haslam's two rivals say he should detail how much money he makes from Pilot Corp., the national truck stop chain that he and relatives own.

The mayor of Knoxville, Mr. Haslam today begins what opponents say is a $1 million statewide television and radio ad blitz that highlights his previous experience as a Pilot president when it comes to creating jobs.

Rep. Wamp, a Chattanooga congressman, and Mr. Gibbons pounced on Mr. Haslam in response to a question posed to candidates about their support for governmental openness and transparency.

"He has a TV ad out claiming to be the man from Pilot Oil. Yet he wants to keep his Pilot Oil income a secret," Mr. Gibbons said.

Unlike the other three Republican and three Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Mr. Haslam has declined to release his income tax returns or reveal how much he earns from Pilot, a privately held companyh.

Mr. Haslam previously has said doing so would disclose information about other family members' income as well as information about the company. He said Thursday that people know he is part owner of Pilot.

"(It) bothers me to hear somebody say a Tennessee company that started as a small business, that's grown to be a national company, that there's something wrong with that," said Mr. Haslam, who appeared somewhat surprised by the sharpness and directness of the attacks.

Earlier, Rep. Wamp said both he and Mr. Gibbons had "gone way beyond" the three years of federal income tax returns sought by the Tennessee Newspaper Network, a collaborative effort of the state's four largest newspapers, including the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Mr. Haslam, meanwhile, provided a summary of income and taxes paid, excluding any income from Pilot.

"On Wall Street they say too big to fail," Rep. Wamp said. "I wonder here if one family or one corporation is too big to be held accountable like everyone else. ... Where is this money coming from that pays for million-dollar TV buys? Who are you in partnership with? Who might stand to make money from you being governor. That's transparency. It starts now."

Mr. Haslam replied, "I guess leave it to somebody who's been in government all their life to confuse a question about public government records with an individual record.

"That being said, I think it (Wamp's remark) is referring to a TV buy," Mr. Haslam said. "It's real obvious that came from 7,300 different contributors who put the money into our campaign to support us."

Mr. Gibbons later said he was "astounded" by Mr. Haslam's refusal to release his income tax returns and pointedly said to him, "Just tell us your income from Pilot Oil, right now."

Others participating in the forum were Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville;Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis; former state House Majority Leader Kim McMillan, D-Clarksville; and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, a Democrat.

Times Free Press Executive Editor and Publisher Tom Griscom moderated the debate.

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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tennrepublican said...

On top of everything Bill Haslam intentionally skews his own fundraising numbers to make them look bigger.

He claimed to have 7,300 contributors, but he actually have 7,300 total contributions with FAR LESS actual contributors. But, leave it to a Haslam...

February 12, 2010 at 9:34 a.m.
Vandy said...

I thought Pilot Oil was a private company. Zach seems to feel "too big to fail" applies to everyone, not just to public companies that have been bailed out by taxpayers. Shouldn't "private" mean private and "public" mean public? Let's discuss government issues, not how much money someone gets from his family business as long as its legal money.

February 12, 2010 at 10:37 a.m.
Tennfriend said...

I also find Zach's comment ironic considering he voted FOR the $700 BILLION Wall Street Bailout. Give me 15 years experience in the private sector over 15 years in government any day.

February 12, 2010 at 11:36 a.m.
johnh said...

Pilot Oil is a state of Tennessee vendor. Pilot is regulated by the state of Tennessee. Bill Haslam is a large shareholder in the company. Bill is running for Governor and regulatory agencies he will oversee will be responsible for regulating Pilot. Both Bill and Pilot should disclose all tax documents and let the public determine the scope of risks if he were to be elected. With all due respect, his judgment has not so good in light of his flip flopping on the 2nd Amendment.

February 15, 2010 at 10:33 a.m.
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