published Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Tennessee GOP finds loophole in campaign law

POLITICAL DONATIONS

State parties, elected state officials and political action committees were required last week to file their disclosures for the first half of the year ending June 30.

GOP donations

* Independent Medicine PAC -- $2,250

* Corrections Corp. of America PAC -- $5,000

* Tennessee Bankers Association PAC -- $5,000

* Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers PAC -- $5,000

* RobinsonGreen lobbyists -- $10,000

* Miller & Martin lobbying/law firm -- $3,000

* Bass Berry & Sims lobbying/law firm -- $3,000

* Beer distributor Fred Dettwiller -- $15,000

* Physician Ronald McDow -- $15,000


Democrat donations

* Lawyers Involved for Tennessee PAC -- $3,500

* Tennessee Education Association PAC -- $5,000

* Olan Mills -- $25,000

Source: Financial disclosure forms

NASHVILLE — Special interests and lobbying firms with business before the General Assembly shelled out tens of thousands of dollars this spring at a Tennessee Republican Party fundraiser benefiting state GOP lawmakers despite a ban on in-session fundraising, records show.

A campaign watchdog group and Democrats are critical, but Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance Executive Director Drew Rawlins and GOP officials say holding the March 31 fundraiser at the governor's mansion was legal.

"You can do that all day long," Rawlins said.

While lawmakers can't accept contributions during the legislative session, political parties can raise funds to pay for party operations and certain political activity, he said.

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said "everything is above board ... We have followed the law."

Haslam spokesman David Smith said "the event was not out of the ordinary."

State parties, elected state officials and political action committees were required last week to file their disclosures for the first half of the year ending June 30. The state GOP's Legislative Campaign Committee's filing showed a number individuals, business and groups, including political action committees, gave money during the session.

Among them were the Tennessee Medical Association, liquor retailers and Corrections Corp. of America, all of which had business before the legislature.

Dick Williams of Tennessee-Common Cause, a public watchdog group, noted that "several of those contributors obviously had something significant before the legislature."

"Hopefully, some of these are folks just interested in supporting good government," he said, "but it's not a coincidence that most of the larger ones are identified with major legislation."

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester called the Haslam-hosted fundraiser a "shakedown."

"It is of great concern to me that the governor would conduct a fundraiser at the residence in the middle of session and accept contributions from people who had significant legislative issues on the table and the legislation had direct financial impact on these companies," Forrester said.

"Certainly," he added, "the spirit of the prohibition to raise money during session was in my view violated, if not the letter of the law."

He said former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen and the Tennessee Democratic Party "never conducted a fundraiser during the session during the entire time Bredesen was governor."

Unlike Haslam, Bredesen never lived at the governor's residence. But Forrester emphasized that Bredesen "never during the eight years [in office] hosted an event during the legislative session to raise money."

Bredesen did host fundraisers for legislative Democrats and the party outside of the in-session ban, which went into effect in 1996.

State GOP Chairman Devaney dismissed Forrester's charges.

"I think the bottom line is they [Democrats] have nothing positive to talk about," Devaney said. "They have no plan, no leadership, no money. And so the only thing they have to do is throw darts."

He said Republican lawmakers, who control both chambers of the General Assembly, did not raise money for the event.

"The only people who raised money for that event was the state party and the people on our finance committee," Devaney said.

He said "very few" GOP lawmakers attended the event. And while the party's state account is called the Tennessee Legislative Campaign, Devaney said it is for the entire party.

But he acknowledged the money is used for state campaigns, including legislative campaigns, as well as for state party expenses.

The Medical Association, which represents physicians, was supporting Haslam's ultimately successful plan to cap non-economic damages like pain and suffering in medical malpractice and other personal injury lawsuits.

Corrections Corp. of America, which runs prisons nationwide, supported Haslam's budgetary reversal of a Bredesen decision to quit using a CCA-run prison. Bankers fought the newspaper industry over public notices involving foreclosures, but both sides came to a compromise. Liquor store owners successfully battled grocery stores over allowing wine sales.

The Tennessee Democratic Party's own disclosure shows it received contributions from several groups with business before lawmakers during this year's legislative session, including a political action committee operated by trial lawyers, who fought the lawsuit caps. The PAC gave $3,500 to Democrats.

Another PAC operated by the Tennessee Education Association, which waged an unsuccessful battle against gutting collective bargaining, gave $5,000 to Democrats during the session.

Several unions contributed smaller amounts.

According to Rawlins with the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, money raised during a legislative session can be used for political party expenses such as rent and salaries as well as get-out-the-vote activities and even television ads so long as they do not expressly support or oppose a particular candidate.

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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joepulitzer said...

Republicans know how to make money; Dumbocrats don't.

July 20, 2011 at 5:42 a.m.
Facts said...

Not being a big fan of the GOP establishment, this makes that more sure. I know for a fact that a state representative ran to be elected as the GOP state chairman. He was told he would have to resign his elected position because he couldn't raise money during session. It sure looks like rules don't apply to some elected officials like they do to others.

July 20, 2011 at 7:42 a.m.
Sailorman said...

"The Tennessee Democratic Party's own disclosure shows it received contributions from several groups with business before lawmakers during this year's legislative session"

Use misleading headlines much Andy? "Journalistic integrity" HA!

July 20, 2011 at 7:59 a.m.
nowfedup said...

So it seems, in TN and across USA, rather then a nation where citizens are elected by representatives, instead this story is what is representative of a corrupted nation. The money rules, the public does not.

July 20, 2011 at 10:40 a.m.
rolando said...

So where is it all around better than right here, nowfedup? [Presuming you are in the USA.]

What better experiences have you had in those countries you consider better than the USA? Please, no glittering generalities...

Finally, what circumstances took you to that country?

July 20, 2011 at 10:59 a.m.
mountainlaurel said...

NASHVILLE — Special interests and lobbying firms with business before the General Assembly shelled out tens of thousands of dollars this spring at a Tennessee Republican Party fundraiser benefiting state GOP lawmakers despite a ban on in-session fundraising, records show.

Why is it that sleazy politicians always seem to find money for THEMSELVES and THEIR PRIORITIES while the helpless among us continue to suffer?

“Thousands of developmentally disabled Tennesseans must fend for themselves starting Aug. 12, when a local treatment center will stop admitting patients after losing a crucial state grant that funded clinical care for decades. . .

The shutdown is a byproduct of state lawmakers' budget cuts, which will leave those who suffer from mental disabilities, autism and cerebral palsy without a formerly reliable option, a TEAM executive said.

"That's the unfortunate part of this whole thing," said Interim Executive Director Peter Charman, who will keep his job at the nonprofit. "This population has always had difficulty getting services."

Link: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2011/jul/20/state-mental-health-cuts-shutter-local/?local

July 20, 2011 at 12:56 p.m.
woody said...

To be perfectly honestly, I don't fault them for "finding the campaign finance loophole." However, in doing so, it would appear they were looking for the aforementioned "loophole."

I find that self-serving and NOT in the public's interest..Woody

July 20, 2011 at 2:32 p.m.
nowfedup said...

Rolando Been around the world several times, business and such. But your worn out tired stuff about "what other nation etc" to justify the open corruption of money in USA is rather childish admission that such exists, but the worn out childish "well other do it" excuse a kid might try with parents for some infraction.

I am not concerned with what other nations do or do not, I am not a citizen of them and not my issue. I and many adults are very concerned with the purchase of USA by money and the corruption that is the handmaiden of such things. I am not at R or D, or the tea klan for how money has purchased them. But the citizens are taking a economic and cultural beating so a very few can profit very well. The big concern, had you enough education to note, is NO nation can survive and grow when wealth is generate by legislation, rather then products for internal and export. USA is not at crossroads where wealth is generated by legislation, AKA make money from money for the few, rather then industrial where many profit from all phases of products life cycles. So your worn out cheap "USA ia wonderful and get out if you do not agree AKA McCarthy-Nixon 1950 think is both childish and less then the reality that exists now days. But amusing for the adults to read.

July 20, 2011 at 3:56 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Until we make politicians live on a pay scale system comparable to the military, we won't be rid of these greedy thugs who are ruining our government.

We need to require lobbying firms to be nonprofit organizations and cap executive branch pay in brackets comparable to the average earnings of people in our state.

July 20, 2011 at 7:27 p.m.
rangerdball said...

There's only one candidate in the 3rd district that has said that he/she will not accept a salary if elected.

April 7, 2012 at 2:40 a.m.
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