Tom Ingram faces heat over lobbying pay

Arkansas-Tennessee Live Blog

NASHVILLE - A legendary Tennessee political consultant, currently paid out of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's own pocket for his advice, is under fire for his and his firm's other paid role in lobbying the administration and state agencies.

Tom Ingram was the mastermind behind Haslam's successful 2010 gubernatorial campaign and since has been paid undisclosed sums by the governor personally for his political and strategic advice on state issues.

Shortly before the Haslam campaign started, Ingram left U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's office where he served as the Tennessee Republican's chief of staff.

At the same time, he rejoined the Ingram Group, the communications and lobby firm he started 30 years ago after leaving then-Gov. Alexander's administration as his deputy.

Ingram's lobbying and consulting was no secret. In typical fashion, he issued a news release.

But this week, the Ingram Group and Ingram came under scrutiny after Nashville's WTVF-TV reported that Ingram was being paid by the governor out of his personal funds and not out of his campaign account.

Meanwhile, the station reported the Ingram Group also had lobbied on behalf of a coal company seeking to mine beneath Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency property without registering to lobby with the state Ethics Commission.

The lobbying was done by Marcille Durham, the Ingram Group's president. Ingram said Wednesday the omission was a mistake.

After the WTVF reporter raised the issue, he asked Durham about it. "She went online and realized she had inadvertently not registered" and she called the Ethics Commission to see what needed to be done.

Ingram said while he had been involved only tangentially, he is registering, too.

"For 30 years, so far as I know, that's the first time that happened," Ingram said. "I've talked to Marcille about it numerous times. ... Our standard is if in doubt, we register.

Meanwhile, the issue is coming before the Ethics Commission on Monday, said Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

"Obviously they were late [registering]," Rawlins said. "It will be up to the Ethics Commission" on whether to issue a show-cause order or simply allow the registrations and leave things at that.

In her letter to the Ethics Commission, Durham said the firm's work for Hillsborough Resources, which owns land adjacent to the TWRA's Catoosa Wildlife Management Area, began in July 2011. Rawlins said the Ethics Commission has penalties for late filings -- $750 -- but was unaware of any situation to last as long as this.

Meanwhile, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron is lambasting Haslam over a situation in which Haslam pays Ingram for advice while his firm lobbies the state.

"We were taught on the Sermon on the Mount that no one can serve two masters. And he [Jesus] pointed out that either you will hate the one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other."

Herron said Haslam "has a responsibility to make sure that the governor and everybody working for the governor is serving one master and that's the people of Tennessee -- and not trying to serve a second master which is a special interest."

Ingram laughed in response, saying, "Well Roy's my friend, and I'll let him speak for himself. But I think he's serving two masters."

Ingram said he doesn't lobby Haslam himself. When an issue comes up in a conversation with the governor about an issue where the group represents someone, "the first thing I do is make him aware that the Ingram Group has a client with an interest."

"But I never ask him to do anything special for that client -- and he doesn't."

The Ingram Group has at least 20 lobby clients, including the Haslam family's Pilot Flying J Travel Centers, which is engulfed in a very public FBI probe of alleged rebate fraud involving trucking companies that purchase diesel fuel from the privately held firm.

The company is run by Haslam's older brother.

Ingram said he doesn't lobby for Pilot at the state level. He is among three of the firm's members registered to lobby in Washington.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or