Tennessee: Haslam donation not tied to fundraising ban vote

Tennessee: Haslam donation not tied to fundraising ban vote

June 25th, 2009 by Andy Sher in Politics State

NASHVILLE - A Republican lawmaker, whose vote helped kill Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey's chance to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign during the legislative session, said he was not influenced by a $15,000 contribution made to his PAC by the family of another gubernatorial candidate.

Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said he helped block House Bill 198, which would've allowed legislators running for governor to raise campaign cash during the session, because he thought the measure was being rushed through at the last minute.

"The first thing I didn't like was that it was being brought up in the last hours of the session," said Rep. Dunn, chairman of the Calendar and Rules Committee. "And then the second thing was ... there were still some major loopholes."

The bill's failure irritated Lt. Gov. Ramsey, who's running for governor in 2010.

"It hurts me if I have to shut down fundraising again between the second Tuesday of January next year and May 15," he said. "That'll be a handicap."

Three years ago, the family of Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, who's running against Lt. Gov. Ramsey in the governor's race, gave $15,000 to Rep. Dunn's political action committee, Git R Dunn, according to State Registry of Election Finance records.

Bill Haslam, his father Jim Haslam II and brother Jim Haslam III donated $5,000 each, records show. At the time, Rep. Dunn was House Republican leader.

The $15,000 was part of $107,500 that Haslam family members gave at the state level that year, including $5,000 that Jim Haslam II and Jim Haslam III each contributed to Lt. Gov. Ramsey's PAC, RAAMPAC.

Rep. Dunn said his actions nearly three years later "had absolutely nothing to do with that (contribution)."

"I was in leadership and turned that money around and put it into achieving a (House) majority," he said. "I can assure you, 100 percent of my actions (on House Bill 198) had nothing to do with who was running."

Although he is from Knoxville, Rep. Dunn said he's "undecided" on which Republican he will support for governor.

Last year, Bill Haslam personally contributed $300 to Rep. Dunn while the mayor's father gave $10,000 to RAAMPAC, records show. Haslam family members contributed $88,749.68 at the state level last year and about $36,000 in 2007, records show.

Mr. Haslam is part of the family that founded Pilot Corp., which runs more than 300 Pilot Travel Centers in more than 40 states, giving him the ability to be a "self funder" if necessary, Lt. Gov. Ramsey noted.

Moreover, he said, Mr. Haslam and the two other GOP candidates, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., and Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons, all can raise funds during session when he can't.

The bill failed last week on the final day of lawmakers' annual session, dying on a 10-10 tie vote in Calendar and Rules Committee. Rep. Dunn, who has taken stances in favor of tougher ethics laws in the past, spoke out against the measure.

That dismissal was enough to sway Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, who had backed the bill earlier. He voted "no," resulting in the tie.

Rep. Dunn said he has "qualms about money changing hands" from special interests to lawmakers while the Legislature is in session. But he said he is willing to work on a more acceptable bill - perhaps with a provision allowing a candidate's treasurer to raise funds but keeping the candidate out of the loop until after session.

"I think there's a certain level of unfairness in the current system," he said. "Someone (legislator) running for governor, it puts them at a distinct disadvantage."

The bill also would have affected Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, who is running for governor, and possibly Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis if he runs.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey noted that, since the bill failed on a tie vote, it is not dead "and can be revived at any time" in 2010.

As to whether he would support an effort to push for passage of the bill, Lt. Gov. Ramsey said, "I'll take that one step at a time. Right now I'm going to play this to my advantage where I can just remind people that I'm raising money between now and the end of the year."