A Republican state legislator has filed a complaint against TVA Director Virginia Lodge, claiming she violated the federal Hatch Act by serving as the campaign treasurer for Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen and for appearing in a commercial on behalf of Bredesen.
But Lodge and TVA lawyers said Wednesday that federal laws do not bar TVA directors as part-time federal employees appointed by the president from engaging in political activities outside of their work at TVA.
Tennessee State Rep. Rick Tillis, R-Lewisburg, filed the complaint against Lodge Monday with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. Tillis called for an investigation into the appearance of Lodge in a recent Bredesen commercial that featured several former female employees in the Bredesen administration affirming his "zero-tolerance" policy on sexual harassment.
While Bredesen was Tennessee governor, Lodge served as commissioner of the state's Department of Human Services.
In 2014, Lodge, who is CEO of Fulfillment Supply Innovation (FSI) in Nashville, was confirmed to a 5-year term on the TVA board as one of nine part-time directors overseeing America's biggest government-owned utility.
In the complaint, Tillis says he believes Lodge violated the Hatch Act due to her role as treasurer of Bredesen's campaign for U.S. Senate while she was serving on the TVA board.
"The purpose of the Hatch Act is to prevent federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity and fundraising," Tillis said in his complaint. "Fundraising for a partisan political candidate constitutes a violation of the Hatch Act. A political treasurer is directly and intimately involved with the political contributions and fundraising of a candidate."
Tillis conceded that a 2015 advisory opinion determined that federal employees could serve as campaign treasurers, but that opinion also said a federal employee "may not allow [her] name to appear anywhere on materials soliciting political contributions for the candidate"
Lodge said Wednesday she asked TVA's general counsel and designated ethics officer if she could legally serve as Bredesen's campaign treasurer while on the TVA board and she was cleared for such a dual role. She denied any wrongdoing and said she "wished people would check the facts first" before pursuing such a complaint.
In response to attacks by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, accusing Bredesen of mishandling sexual harassment allegations when Bredesen was Tennessee's governor, Lodge said "Marsha Blackburn's attack ad is just a lie." Although the ad criticizing Blackburn's attacks does not ask for money, Tillis said the ad appears on Bredesen's campaign website, which Tillis complains "asks for a political contribution in multiple places."
TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said as politically appointed, part-time directors, TVA board members are not precluded from engaging in political activity on their own time, although they can't use TVA resources to promote a candidate.
"Director Lodge and other TVA directors are not full-time employees and, under applicable federal law, fall under the "special government employee" classification and are allowed to play an active management role in a campaign under specific restrictions," Hopson said.
The Bredesen campaign called the accusation against Lodge "another baseless complaint" from the GOP.
"The Congresswoman may not be used to it after becoming steeped in D.C. swamp politics for the last 16 years, but here in Tennessee we call them like we see them," Bredesen press secretary Alyssa Hansen said. "Bottom line: a lie is a lie. Plain and simple."
Since the TVA board was revamped in 2004 from three full-time directors to nine part-time directors, the presidential appointees to the board have tended to be from the political party of the president who appoints them. President Obama appointed Lodge, the wife of former Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Richard Lodge.
When George W. Bush was president, former Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan of Kentucky served as TVA chairman in 2009 and 2010.
President Trump has nominated Memphis Attorney John L. Ryder, who has served as general counsel to the Republican National Committee for the past five years, to fill one of the TVA board seats. The U.S. Senate has not acted upon Ryder's nomination.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-6340.