published Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Businesses, PACs give $1.4 million to Haslam

By Erik Schelzig and Joe Edwards
  • photo
    The Associated Press Gov. Bill Haslam gives his inaugural address as the 49th governor of Tennessee in Nashville.

NASHVILLE -- Businesses, trade groups and political action committees accounted for three out of every five dollars raised for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's inauguration last month.

Fundraising figures obtained by The Associated Press under Tennessee's open records laws show more than 300 donations from the business world totaled $1.4 million for the festivities surrounding the Republican's swearing-in on as Tennessee's 49th governor.

About 1,500 donations from individuals made up nearly $1 million more.

Corporations are banned from making direct contributions to candidates in elections, but are allowed to give up to $7,500 to inaugurations.

David Smith, Haslam's press secretary, said Wednesday the governor "was committed to covering [inauguration] costs to the state and holding events accessible to all Tennesseans during these difficult financial times, and he worked to make that happen."

Dick Williams of the advocacy group Common Cause said those barred from giving to candidates during campaigns can use the inauguration donations to try to curry favor with elected officials, especially because the corporations can give three times as much as individuals.

"Obviously they don't mind if that ingratiates them with the governor and his party," said Williams. "The whole thing is skewed toward corporate involvement."

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, of Blountville, said he sees nothing wrong with corporate donations, and that he will support legislation this year to allow them to be given directly to candidates.

"Corporations by definition are the stock holders," he said. "It's no different than a labor union being made up of members of the organization. Those stockholders are contributing to campaigns."

Pilot Corp. and Pilot Travel Centers LLC, parent organizations of the national chain of truck stops owned by the Haslam family, combined to give $10,000 to the inaugural. Meanwhile, the new governor and several family members each gave $2,500 -- the maximum amount allowed for individuals.

More than $1 million came from 143 corporations and PACs that gave the maximum to Haslam. They included Philip Morris parent Altria Group Inc., BP North America Corp. and Brown-Forman Corp., maker of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey.

Also hitting the maximum were dozens of companies making huge recent investments in Tennessee, including Volkswagen, Nissan, Wacker Chemical and Hemlock Semiconductor.

Others giving maximum contributions to the Haslam inauguration were several law firms with a heavy lobbying presence at the Capitol, and political action groups for various trade groups representing Tennessee bankers, hospitals, real estate agents, road builders and liquor wholesalers.

Disclosures filed with the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance indicate that Haslam spent about $1 million on the inauguration. State law allows leftover money to be used on a second inauguration.

Continue reading: Who donated to Gov. Bill Haslam's inauguration last month? Check the list.

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