NASHVILLE - Legislators, special interests and lobbyists over the past week and early Tuesday sought to beat the clock and make or receive final campaign contributions before an annual fundraising blackout went into effect when the General Assembly convened at noon.
Delivering contributions for their clients, lobbyists made pilgrimages Monday and on Tuesday morning to legislators' offices to deliver last-minute checks. Lawmakers enacted the in-session fundraising ban in 1996 to avoid the appearance of special interests giving campaign cash while laws were being considered.
On Monday night, Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey from Blountville held a dinner at a Nashville steakhouse for his Republicans Achieving A Majority PAC.
According to a copy of the invitation, annual contributions that add up to $20,000 or more gave donors a "private dinner in the city of your choice" with Ramsey and earned them the designation of "lieutenants." Ramsey is the state's lieutenant governor.
Contributions of $20,000 or more also came with entry into Monday night's Nashville event, which included "top legislative leaders and committee chairman" as well as invitations to regional meetings to "discuss the top issues facing Tennessee's future."
As a bonus, donors were offered a "commemorative, personalized Tennessee Senate gavel and photo opportunity with Lieutenant Governor and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey," the invitation said.
Donors of $10,000 in contributions also could attend Monday's event and received invitations to the regional meetings, which evidently occurred last fall.
Last Thursday, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, held another fundraiser at a private residence to benefit House Republicans.
"That was a joint effort on the part of Gov. Haslam and myself to raise money for the Legislative Trust Fund, which we created for the state party," she said.
Harwell estimated the event brought in about $120,000 "so far. Money's still coming in."
Contributors could give $1,000 and "patrons" contributed $5,000 or $10,000.
House and Senate Democrats held their event Monday night. "We don't have a minimum or a maximum," House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said about the Monday event.
As for how much beleaguered Democrats received, Fitzhugh said, "we're still counting."