Legislative Republicans' plans for a fundraiser at the governor's mansion are drawing fire from Democrats who say plans to charge some contributors as much are $50,000 is "outrageous."
With control of the governorship and state House and Senate for the first time since Civil War Reconstruction, Republicans are holding the Oct. 3 event to build their campaign war chest for GOP legislative candidates running in 2012.
The price to attend what is billed as the "Taste of Tennessee Ball" is $2,500 per couple. But a contribution for $50,000 admits five people to an earlier dinner with Gov. Bill Haslam and first lady Crissy.
Haslam spokesman David Smith said holding fundraisers at the mansion "is not out of the ordinary."
Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese conceded that point but charged the $50,000 dinner is unheard of from what he can determine. That kind of money is equivalent to twice what many Tennesseans are paid in a year, he said.
"The question is who can afford that?" he fumed. "And the answer is big corporations and CEOs. Right now in our state the average Tennessean already thinks that our state House and governor's mansion is bought and paid for and controlled by special interests. ... When you put out and ask for $50,000, you're just reinforcing that."
House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, defended the event, saying both parties have used the mansion for fundraising events. It is legal in Tennessee.
"Gov. Ned McWherter and the Democrats used the residence for fundraising. Gov. [Phil] Bredesen and the Democrats used the facility for fundraising. [Republican] Gov. Don Sundquist did," Maggart said.
"Certainly it's available, and we pay the fee [$2,500] to use it and it [the residence] belongs to the taxpayers and we're inviting taxpayers there. The folks who are coming that evening are taxpayers."