Tennessee House speaker backs ethics bill to bring expenses 'from the dark into the light'

John Partipilo / Tennessee Lookout / Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton speaks at the state Capitol.

Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton extolled disclosure requirements in an ethics reform bill and questioned the motives of groups opposed to the legislation, mainly tax-exempt organizations that can shower "dark money" on campaigns in the final two months of an election.

Armed with the authority to participate in all House committee meetings, Sexton made a rare appearance in the Local Government Committee, where he defended comprehensive reform legislation he is sponsoring that would require tax-exempt groups that spend money to influence elections to report aggregate expenditures of $5,000 within 60 days of a campaign.

Many of those expenditures don't list candidates' names but provide messages that target candidates, often smearing their character. This bill, though, states the nonprofit groups in question would be deemed a political campaign committee and must report expenditures topping $5,000 for campaign material containing a state or local candidate's name in a primary or general election in that 60-day window.