Tennessee legislators vote to require disclosure of trips funded by lobbyists

Tennessee State Capitol downtown Nashville. Photo by Ricky Rogers (The Tennessean) 4/27/2000
Tennessee State Capitol downtown Nashville. Photo by Ricky Rogers (The Tennessean) 4/27/2000

NASHVILLE - The state House voted unanimously today to require Tennessee legislators disclose privately funded trips by anyone seeking "to inform or advise" lawmakers on state public policy issues.

Members voted 88-0 for the bill, sponsored by Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. An amended version of the bill is scheduled to come up next week in the Senate.

"Good bill, representative," Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, told McCormick as he presented the bill.

The Nashville lawmaker asked McCormick whether the bill would cover organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council or National Conference of State Legislatures or "other organizations where these corporations provide give them millions of dollars to disperse out scholarships to members so they'll come to these conferences and get in front of them."

McCormick said as written would "have you report those. Now, it doesn't require you to come up with dollars amounts." That's because the State Ethics Commission's barebones ethics disclosure form "does not have dollar amounts on it. But it will require you to say, yes, this organization paid for me to go on a trip."

Replied Mitchell: "Even a better bill than I thought it was."

McCormick's bill seeks to address controversies related to lawmakers' previously undisclosed travel in recent years.

That included a 2015 plane trip paid for by Nashville attorney, former lobbyist and voucher proponet Lee Barfield, to visit a private school in North Carolina. The list of attendees included McCormick, Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

McCormick and others later told The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville there was nothing wrong with that, but the Chattanooga lawmaker and Harwell said such activity should be disclosed.

In 2011, the Tennessean previously reportred, wealthy GOP donor an anti-Islamist activist Andy Miller paid for six other lawmakers to visit Europe in order to learn about "radical Islam." In 2014, voucher advocate Mark Gill let five lawmakers - including then-Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, later expelled for alleged sexual harassment - to stay at his Alabama seaside condominium and go deep sea fishing.

Earlier this year, the newspaper reported two current Tennessee representantives and a former senator visited Turkey at the expense of organization tied to Turkish opposition Gulen and Hizmet movements.

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