A Lucrative Session for Lobbyists; Opinions Differ on Their Role

Special interests this year spent millions of dollars seeking to influence the Tennessee General Assembly on issues ranging from a proposed cap on personal injury lawsuit awards to letting grocery stores sell wine, reports Andy Sher.
Fights in these and other areas, including education policy and telecommunications competition, often played out not only in committee rooms and on the House and Senate floor but behind the scenes in lawmakers’ offices, legislative corridors and sometimes lavish receptions for lawmakers.
Groups also spent money in more public ways with studies, telemarketing campaigns and advertising aimed at encouraging the public to pressure legislators.
In the view of Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga: “Special interests play an outsized role in our government and especially in our legislature.”
“Obviously, what we do affects wholesale industries, but it’s difficult not to look at what goes on in the legislature and worry about the individual citizen having his proper say, also,” Berke said.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, countered that lobbyists represent Tennesseans who don’t have time to come to the legislature every day.
“It’s good for anyone to get their story in front of the legislators, especially the legislators that aren’t necessarily familiar with the issue. In that way, I think just anyone coming to see you would be helpful to their cause,” McCormick said.
Moreover, he said, “We can’t stop people from lobbying. I think the First Amendment makes it clear that people can come lobby, so we have set up a system where they have to at least report who’s paying them.”

(Note: Employers of lobbyists file reports with the Tennessee Ethics Commission every six months, giving a ‘range’ of compensation paid to lobbyists and related expenditures. Link to the search website is HERE.
For example, AT&T (still registered as Bellsouth), traditionally one of the top spenders on lobbying (with over $1 million in sessions past), reported $300,000 to $350,000 in lobbyist compensation paid for the six months ended March 31, plus $50,000-$100,000 in related expenditures and a $22,406 reception. AT&T had 15 registered lobbyists.
Most famous lobbyist of the year, doubtless, was Fred Thompson, one of seven registered for the Tennessee Association of Justice and one of 199 registered to lobby on the subject of tort reform. TAJ reported compensation paid for the six months ended March 31 of $350,000-$400,000; related expenses of $25,000-$50,000 and a $8,250 reception.)

One thought on “A Lucrative Session for Lobbyists; Opinions Differ on Their Role

  1. Donna Locke

    Unfortunately the lawmakers aren’t tired of it yet. And, y’all know, of course, some lobbyists are more equal than others. And get special audiences with the speakers any time they want. And…amazingly…always…always, honey…get their way.

Leave a Reply