The Tennessee Ethics Commission has decided against penalizing lobbyists Bill Nolan, who failed to register as representing the City of Oak Ridge, and Jennifer Murphy, who had been charged with having an illegal “contingency” contract for lobbying services.
Nolan had earlier acknowledged that he failed to register as a lobbyist for Oak Ridge for four years, saying he “just messed up,” then filed the necessary paperwork for the past years and paid the required registration fees. That was roughly the same situation that came up last year involving veteran political operative Tom Ingram and a colleague, who got no penalty.
Given that Nolan had self-reported his violation and come into compliance, the commission voted at a Wednesday meeting to dismiss the charges, said Becky Bradley, ethics specialist with the states Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.
Murphy’s case was somewhat more complicated and had been the subject of two prior hearings. Murphy, of Nashville, had a lobbying contract with the Tennessee Disabilities Coalition in 2002 that provided she would get 10 percent of funds the coalition received from the state if successful in lobbying for allocation of the money.
Under a bill enacted in 2002 with Murphy’s lobbying support, the coalition now gets a portion of fees charged for marriage licenses in Tennessee and Murphy has been getting 10 percent of the state money collected since. Her share was about $65,000 in 2010 – the year used as an example when the arrangement was discovered in a random lobbyist report audit.
In its third meeting on the matter, the commission voted unanimously to adopt the reasoning of Murphy’s lawyer, John Lyell, who is also a lobbyist. Basically, Lyell contended that contingency contracts – those wherein the lobbyist is paid only if successful – were completely legal in 2002. The law banning them was enacted in 2006.
The state and federal constitutions both prohibit laws that would impair an existing contract, Lyell contended, and penalizing Murphy now for what was legal then would be unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, a dispute has developed between Murphy and the Tennessee Disability Coalition, which has hired different lobbyists this year, according to the Tennessee Journal. The issues are fairly complicated, but it involved application of the old contract and interaction with other work done for the coalition by Murphy that includes an array of matters such as fundraising efforts, consulting and registering the disabled to vote.