Bill would require TN candidates to disclose credit rating

Two Republican legislators are proposing that candidates for public office in Tennessee be required to publicly disclose their own credit rating within a general “range” to let people know whether they are fiscally responsible on a personal basis.

State Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, says the inspiration for HB1433 came from a constituent who asked him if there is some way candidate claims of dedication to fiscal responsibility could be verified for voters.

“Before an election, candidates constantly say how they’re going to balance the budget and make sure government lives within its means,” Sexton said in a telephone interview Sunday. That raises the question, he said, of whether the candidates “mean what they say.”

After researching the matter, Sexton said, disclosure of each candidate’s personal credit rating seemed the best answer. The National Conference of State Legislatures, he said, advised that Tennessee would be the first state in the nation to enact such a disclosure requirement if the bill passes. It was filed last week with Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, as Senate sponsor.

Under current law, all candidates for state and local office — including incumbent officeholders who have no opposition to their reelection — must file a statement with the Tennessee Ethics Commission listing their sources of income and investments wherein they hold a stake of $5,000 of more. The bill would add credit ratings to the list of disclosure requirements.

The bill calls for reporting the candidate’s credit rating within a “range” that encompasses five categories.

The first is zero, which Sexton noted has been deemed by Dave Ramsey, who has a popular Nashville-based radio talk show on personal finance, is arguably the best rating of all — potentially meaning one has no debt reported whatsoever.

The second category is a score or 700 or above; the third 699-650; the fourth 649-550; the fifth — and the worst — is 1-549.

When asked, Sexton disclosed his own personal credit rating specifically as 825, which is excellent, according to the website Credit.org. There, anything below 550 is deemed a “poor” credit rating. Ratings from 550-620 are classified as “subprime,” those 620-680 as “acceptable” and those 680-740 as “good.”

Sexton said he sees the bill as a way to enhance transparency and assure truthfulness. It is officially dubbed “The Voter Accountability and Transparency Act.” He declined to predict how the measure will fare when the full General Assembly considers it in the 2016 session that begins in January.

“We’ll see how it goes,” he said.