NASHVILLE — Tennessee lawmakers are playing "beat the clock" holding last-minute campaign fundraising events before the state's annual in-session ban on raising political cash takes effect at noon CST today when the General Assembly convenes.
It's the last chance for lawmakers, members' leadership PACs and House and Senate Republican and Democratic caucuses to raise money for 2018 state elections until the session either ends or lawmakers' work extends beyond May 15.
The law goes back to 1995 when then-lawmakers became more sensitive to raising money from special interests while simultaneously acting on legislation that would impact them.
While some of Tennessee's part-time lawmakers chafe over the restriction, others are more prone to thump their chests and note Congress, which operates full time, has no such restrictions.
Partisanship goes by the wayside in the last-minute events. For example, the House Republican Caucus held an event Monday, while Senate Democrats did theirs Monday night. House Democrats have theirs scheduled this morning before session begins.
House Finance Subcommittee Chairman Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, had an event Monday at which invitees could contribute either to his campaign or his leadership political action committee, McCormick PAC.
"[Tuesday] afternoon, it becomes illegal to fundraise," quipped McCormick, a former House majority leader who hopes to succeed House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, as speaker in 2019. "I wanted to get in a last-minute event. The PAC money is to help other candidates."
Noting that he invited colleagues, McCormick said attendees don't have to contribute to get in the door. House Majority Glen Casada, R-Franklin, who also is eyening a speaker's race, held an event Monday as well.
Casada said there was no asking price for admission.
Meanwhile, Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, held a a funraiser Monday for his leadership PAC, BoW-PAC.
At least 18 lawmakers, leadership PACs or party caucuses are holding events, according to lobbyists who have lists of which events they will attend.
Others with fundraisers include House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, who is running for governor; Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager, R-Kingston; Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston; Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown; and Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville.
Legislation pending from last year could change the equation for Tennessee lawmakers when it comes to raising campaign cash. Some Republican House members wanted a bill that would allow them to fundraise during a special called session devoted to a specific topic. It passed the GOP-controlled chamber.
But the Republican-run Senate added a provision that would allow its members to double the amount of contributions they could get per cycle. Their argument was that their districts are much larger than those of representatives, and they run every four years compared to the two-year terms for House members.
The House balked. The House's website listed the conference committee report scheduled to be heard today. But House Republican staff appeared doubtful final action would be taken with a majority of the House still opposed to the Senate's addition.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.
This story was updated Jan. 8, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. with more information.