published Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Diverse group raises money for Haslam inauguration

NASHVILLE — Several well-known Democrats, a gaggle of lobbyists and a parade of prominent businessmen are among people raising money for Republican Gov.-elect Bill Haslam's inaugural activities, according to a copy of the inaugural committee's invitation.

The celebration, which includes a series of regional events such as a free reception today at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, is expected to cost $1 million to $1.5 million, said Mark Cate, who is on the Haslam transition team.

"It truly is a celebration across the state, and a lot of people have jumped onboard and said, 'We want to help and be a part of it,'" Cate said Monday. "So we've really seen a lot of people willing to provide leadership. We're appreciative of that."

Events at the inauguration — whose theme is "Working Ahead, Moving Forward" — are privately funded with no taxpayer dollars involved, he pointed out, but added that participants won't be getting any favors from Haslam, who takes the oath of office Saturday.

Co-chairmen are supposed to try to raise $50,000 while patrons aim for $25,000, according to event organizers.

Among the 20 couples listed as inaugural committee co-chairs is former Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Randy Button and his wife, according to a copy of an invitation obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"I feel real supportive of the new governor," Button said in an interview. "I think he's going to do a great job."

He said he found no irony in a former Democratic Party chairman being involved.

"I worked on two inaugurations for [Democratic] Gov. Phil Bredesen, and we had support across the aisle for both of those," he said. "I think it's the right civic thing to do."

Also on the list of co-chairmen is Gov. Bredesen's former deputy Dave Cooley, a veteran Democratic political strategist.

"I just felt like it was important to step in and do my part," Cooley said, noting that Democratic Gov. Ned McWherter had help from Republicans at his 1986 inaugural. "This is really a time when partisanship needs to be shoved aside."

Lobbyists listed as either co-chairs or patrons include Bradley Jackson, who heads government affairs for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, as well as former Rep. Steve Bivens, D-Cleveland; Mandy Young; Russ Farrar and John Farris.

Dick Williams of Common Cause Tennessee said his government watchdog group and other advocates successfully pushed several years ago to limit contributions to inaugurals to $2,500 for individuals and $7,500 for companies or political action committees.

Such contributions also are disclosed, he said.

"It's a combination" of reasons for people to be involved or give, Williams said. "People like to have a nice event that's not taxpayer funded and people like to support that. But obviously the moneyed interests who like to influence through lobbying, that is another way to at least get a favorable hearing from public officials.

"I wouldn't want to say that's their only motivation or that they expect an exact quid pro quo," Williams said, "but I think you'd have to be pretty naive not to think that's part of the motivation."

The inaugural committee chair is Ingram Industries Chairman John Ingram, of Nashville, a Republican. Long-time Republican fundraiser and developer Ted Welch is treasurer.

Several Chattanooga-area Republicans are patrons, including accountants Joe Decosimo and Fred Decosimo as well as Allan Jones, of Cleveland, founder of Check into Cash — one the nation's largest payday loan companies.

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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