published Friday, February 28th, 2014

Tennessee House OKs bill limiting personal campaign loans

NASHVILLE — Future Tennessee candidates for state and local office would face limits on how much they can personally lend their campaigns under a bill that passed the House on a 75-12 vote Thursday.

The bill says candidates may lend their campaigns up to $100,000 per election. That includes loans the candidate obtains from a financial institution.

Candidates also no longer could charge their campaigns interest on loans up to $100,000.

The legislation does not limit how much candidates may spend. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that candidates may spend unlimited amounts of their own money when running for office.

But in focusing on loans, the bill strikes at an advantage that wealthy candidates long have exercised in Tennessee: They can lend money to their campaigns and use future contributions to repay the loan, sometimes with interest.

"They may have to think twice about putting millions in because they would not get it back," said Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, the measure's sponsor.

It's intended to help "working class" candidates, Dunn said, but several Republican and Democratic lawmakers objected. They fear the bill would harm their ability to seek bank loans above $100,000 to fend off millionaire candidates who can finance their own campaigns without such limits.

Two Republicans pointed out that a wealthy candidate could still simply refund his or her own contribution after the campaign. Dunn acknowledged that would be a possibility, but he said it would violate the spirit of the law and the public would know it and have something to say about it in the next election.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam loaned his campaign $3.5 million, and his immediate predecessor, Democrat Phil Bredesen, loaned his campaign $3 million.

But Bredesen never sought to repay himself and, so far, Haslam hasn't either. Haslam is running for re-election this year but no well-known rival has emerged.

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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