NASHVILLE - Attempts to let sitting state legislators, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, raise political funds for other offices such as governor while the General Assembly is in session failed in the House Calendar and Rules Committee this afternoon, likely killing the measure for the year.
House Bill 198 failed on a 10-10 vote with House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville crossing over to vote with Republicans in favor of the measure. But Calendar and Rules Committee Chairman Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, joined with Democrats in opposing the measure.
The vote is viewed as a blow to the gubernatorial candidacy of Lt. Gov. Ramsey, the Senate speaker. Lt. Gov. Ramsey said current law places him at a disadvantage because one of his GOP gubernatorial foes, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, is a millionaire, while other rivals, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., and Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons are not bound by such restrictions.
State Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, who has declared he is running for governor in 2010, would also have been affected as would Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, should he run as expected.
The ban on sitting lawmakers raising funds during session took effect in 1996 and was passed because of unease that lawmakers were seeking campaign funds from lobbyists, businesses and other interests at the very same time they were passing legislation affecting them.
"I think people who are considering running for governor ought to look at the way the laws are today and not contemplate changing them," said House Democratic Leader Gary Odom of Nashville.
There was no immediate comment from Lt. Gov. Ramsey. The bill had been placed on the Senate's last calendar today as lawmakers scramble to finish their annual session and adjourn.
Efforts to restrict the proposed changes to prevent lawmakers from raising money for another office and keeping the funds were not enough to placate some critics.
The current law prevents fundraising during the session or, in odd years, before June 1, whichever comes first. In even years, the ban lasts through May 15 or the end of session, whichever comes first.
Lt. Gov. Ramsey has held a number of fundraisers beginning June 1.