Registry dismisses complaint against Yes on 2 committee

The state Registry of Election Finance has dismissed a complaint contending the Yes on 2 committee wrongfully dodged campaign finance disclosure laws in funding for last year’s successful effort toward passage of a state constitutional amendment on judicial selection.

The complaint was filed by John Avery Emison, who led the opposing No on 2 campaign committee. Yes on 2 got most of its campaign funding, more than $1.2 million, from the Tennessee Business Partnership, a nonprofit group set up last year — with the same business address and attorney — as Yes on 2.

As a 501(c)4 organization, the partnership does not have disclose its donors. Yes on 2, on its disclosure, simply listed the money as coming from the partnership.

“I don’t like it either,” registry board member Patricia Heim told Emison during the hearing, saying she would prefer the public know more about where money comes from. But under current laws and court rulings, she said the procedure is “perfectly legal” and there’s nothing the registry can do about the situation.

Brant Phillips, a Nashville attorney representing Yes on 2 and the Business Partnership, responded the two groups were legally set up as separate entities and functioned as such in full compliance with all relevant laws.

To counter an Emison contention that the partnership was set up merely as a “conduit” for providing money to Yes on 2, Phillips said in a document filed with the registry that the $1.2 million was only about half the group’s 2014 budget. Other spending included $250,000 to Tennesseans for Student Success and $222,400 to Businesses for Tennessee Prosperity, both “actively engaged in education reform,” he said.

The vote to dismiss the complaint was unanimous.

Emison said afterwards he was disappointed in the decision that means the “governors’ committee” — Yes on 2 was co-chaired by Gov. Bill Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen — can keep its funding secret from the public.

“There’s not a politician drawing a breath who doesn’t know where a million dollars for his campaign comes from… The insiders know where it came from. But the public doesn’t know,” he said.