NASHVILLE -- State Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said Monday he "just made a mistake" last week by sending campaign fundraising letters soliciting contributions from Capitol Hill lobbyists and political action committees, even though a provision of an in-session fundraising ban remained in effect.
"I knew that May 15 was when the fundraising ban was over," said Rep. Bell, who is running in the Senate District 9 GOP primary to succeed Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland. "I didn't realize you could not raise money from PACs until the session was over."
In the fundraising letter, Rep. Bell wrote, "I need your help. May 15th is past and it is time to raise money. Would you please help me now with the biggest check possible?"
After the letter went out, Rep. Bell said, another lawmaker told him there was another provision in state law prohibiting PACs from contributing until the legislative session is over.
He said Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance chief Drew Rawlins confirmed that and, by the next morning, Rep. Bell sent out another round of letters. The letter notes that the first letter was sent by mistake and asks recipients to "accept my apology for the oversight."
Mr. Rawlins said the state's in-session fundraising ban ends for legislators at the end of the legislative session or, in election years, May 15, whichever comes first. But other provisions, he said, also state that "no employer of a lobbyist or a PAC controlled by a lobbyist can make a contribution to any candidate while they're in session."
Lobbyists themselves are barred from contributing to lawmakers at all.
Mr. Rawlins said he sees no action being taken against Rep. Bell. The lawmaker faces former state Sen. Lou Patten, R-Cleveland, in the Aug. 5 primary.
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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, ...