Category Archives: Lobbyists

Lobbyist trio set up new firm

News release from MNA Government Relations
(Nashville, TN / September 28, 2016 Three veterans of Tennessee government, Wendell Moore, Jeremy Nagoshiner and Tausha Alexander, have joined to form a new policy consulting firm, MNA Government Relations.

The new firm will focus on providing government relations and procurement services consulting to itsa clients. The combined experience of the new firm’s principals will provide clients the tools and resources necessary to successfully represent their interests to the state’s executive and legislative branches of government. Continue reading

Five legislators hosted on seaside trip by voucher advocate

Five Republican state legislators were hosted on a three-day trip to the Alabama Gulf coast in 2014 by Mike Gill, a board director of Tennessee Federation for Children, a group that actively pushes school voucher legislation and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legislative campaigns through its political action committee, according to The Tennessean.

Reps. Andy Holt, Mike Carter, Billy Spivey and recently ousted lawmaker Jeremy Durham stayed at Gill’s condo and left one morning for a half-day deep sea fishing trip paid for by Gill. They didn’t catch many fish, but the captain showed them how to filet the ones they did. Rep. Jimmy Matlock also made the trip but went to the beach instead of fishing because he gets seasick.

The group traveled to Gill’s Gulf Shores condo and ate seafood at local restaurants on their own dime. They discussed policy, but some say there was a rule not to do so when Gill was around.

Carter, who bunked on a couch in the condo for the three-day trip, thought he might have to take a quiz after watching the movie. He described the weekend as “intense training in integrity” involving “an odd duck.”

(Note: The referenced movie was “A Man for All Seasons,” a 1966 film on the final years of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Lord Chancellor of England who clashed with King Henry VIII on religious principles and was beheaded. The men watched the movie one night, then discussed it at length.)
Continue reading

New coalition set up to push ‘criminal justice reform’

Press release from Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice
NASHVILLE – Leaders from advocacy, business and social service groups with constituents across the state came together today to launch the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice. The nonpartisan coalition is committed to advancing criminal justice reform. Founding organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the Tennessee Association of Goodwills, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“These diverse organizations from across the political spectrum came together because we all agree that criminal justice reform is both necessary and urgent,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Our current criminal justice system is functioning like a revolving door. We as a state can and must do better to ensure public safety, fair treatment and equality in the justice system. This coalition will be a powerful advocate for smart-on-crime policies at the legislature.”

The coalition will promote reforms that enhance public safety, promote rehabilitation and re-entry, and save taxpayer dollars in order to create a just and fair criminal justice system that offers every Tennessean the opportunity to become a productive member of society. Continue reading

On the prescription painkiller lobby’s influence

(Note: The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity have produced a package of stories published this weekend on the politics of those involved in making prescription painkillers. One of them, focused on lobbying efforts and political contributions at the state level, is below and includes a substantial reference to Tennessee. ‘

The Tennessean has done a sidebar reporting that Tennessee politicians received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions over the past decade from pharmaceutical companies and other members of the Pain Care Forum, a coalition that meets monthly to discuss opioid-related issues. That report is HERE.)

By Geoff Mulvihill, Liz Essley Whyte and Ben Wieder, Associated Press and Center for Public Integrity
The makers of prescription painkillers have adopted a 50-state strategy that includes hundreds of lobbyists and millions in campaign contributions to help kill or weaken measures aimed at stemming the tide of prescription opioids, the drugs at the heart of a crisis that has cost 165,000 Americans their lives and pushed countless more to crippling addiction.

The drugmakers vow they’re combating the addiction epidemic, but The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity found that they often employ a statehouse playbook of delay and defend that includes funding advocacy groups that use the veneer of independence to fight limits on the drugs, such as OxyContin, Vicodin and fentanyl, the narcotic linked to Prince’s death.

The mother of Cameron Weiss was no match for the industry’s high-powered lobbyists when she plunged into the corridors of New Mexico’s Legislature, crusading for a measure she fervently believed would have saved her son’s life.

It was a heroin overdose that eventually killed Cameron, not long before he would have turned 19. But his slippery descent to death started a few years earlier, when a hospital sent him home with a bottle of Percocet after he broke his collarbone in wrestling practice.

Jennifer Weiss-Burke pushed for a bill limiting initial prescriptions of opioid painkillers for acute pain to seven days. The bill exempted people with chronic pain, but opponents still fought back, with lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry quietly mobilizing in increased numbers to quash the measure.

They didn’t speak up in legislative hearings. “They were going individually talking to senators and representatives one-on-one,” Weiss-Burke said.

Unknowingly, she had taken on a political powerhouse that spent more than $880 million nationwide on lobbying and campaign contributions from 2006 through 2015 — more than 200 times what those advocating for stricter policies spent and more than eight times what the formidable gun lobby recorded for similar activities during that same period.

The pharmaceutical companies and allied groups have a number of legislative interests in addition to opioids that account for a portion of their political activity, but their steady presence in state capitals means they’re poised to jump in quickly on any debate that affects them.

Collectively, the AP and the Center for Public Integrity found, the drugmakers and allied advocacy groups employed an annual average of 1,350 lobbyists in legislative hubs from 2006 through 2015, when opioids’ addictive nature came under increasing scrutiny.

“The opioid lobby has been doing everything it can to preserve the status quo of aggressive prescribing,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing and an outspoken advocate for opioid reform. “They are reaping enormous profits from aggressive prescribing.” Continue reading

Six legislators went to Europe at Andy Miller’s expense

Investigations into Jeremy Durham’s finances reveal gaping holes in state campaign finance laws that allow lawmakers to receive overseas “education” trips from wealthy donors and use campaign money for investments not reported to the public, reports The Tennessean.

Durham invested his campaign funds in the company of well-known Republican donor Andy Miller, who is the leader of an organization described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Miller also paid for six lawmakers — one Democrat and five Republicans — to take a trip in fall 2011 to Europe to learn about “radical Islam.”

The trips and the investments involved thousands of dollars, and raised concerns among ethics and open government advocates about the influence of money on the lawmakers. But none of these transactions or travel are required to be reported on any state campaign finance document, said Drew Rawlins, executive director of the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

…Miller is a prominent tea party-aligned donor and leader of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the group is opposed to Islam and those who practice it, landing the organization on the SPLC’s list of hate groups for years, said Stephen Piggott, a senior research analyst at the SPLC.

…The “gift” loophole in state law allowed Miller to pay for six lawmakers to go on a five-day “fact-finding” trip to Europe. Because Miller isn’t a registered lobbyist, Rawlins said, there’s no violation of law, and there is nothing Miller or the lawmakers on the trip would need to report to his agency.

“They can’t accept a gift from a lobbyist or an employer of a lobbyist. So if it was paid for by a lobbyist or employer of a lobbyist, then it would be a prohibited gift. Otherwise, there’s no prohibition on taking a — and I’ll use the term gift, but a trip in this case — there’s no prohibition on that,” Rawlins said.

Miller’s trip included stops in Dearborn, Mich. — a city with a large Arab-American population — London, Brussels, Antwerp and Amsterdam. Those on the trip include: Sens. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis; Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro; Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma; Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough; and then state Rep. Joe Carr, a Lascassas Republican who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. Diane Black in recent primaries.

“The purpose of the trip was to discuss immigration issues with their peers in parliaments there that I had met on previous encounters,” Miller said in an email, also confirming paying for the trip.

“It may be hard for some to understand that I went to this expense simply out of love and concern for my country,” he said. “But that is the fact.”

Carr said Miller paid for flight and hotel costs. When asked is he was concerned about possible criticism of Miller financing an international trip for lawmakers, Carr said: “I don’t give a rat’s ass.”

TN StudentFirst: New name, same staff & game plan

News release from TennesseeCAN
NASHVILLE, TN- Today, StudentsFirst Tennessee announced the continuation of its statewide education advocacy efforts under the new name and organizational structure of the Tennessee Campaign for Achievement Now (TennesseeCAN).

As part of the transition, TennesseeCAN will now operate as an official member of the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN) network. In March 2016, StudentsFirst and 50CAN announced they would merge.

“We are excited to continue our work on behalf of Tennessee students and families,” said state Executive Director Brent Easley. “We have an exciting vision for our priorities in 2017 and we are looking forward to rolling those out in the coming weeks.  Also, we are constantly working to push our operation to improve, and by joining the 50CAN network, this merger represents a great opportunity to combine the strengths of both organizations for an improved and more effective advocacy effort.”

TennesseeCAN will function as a new and autonomous organization whose legislative agenda, policy priorities, staff and underlying mission remains unchanged.

Since 2011, the organization has overseen one of the state’s premier non-profit education policy and advocacy movements focused on broadening student access to great schools and great teachers. During those years, the team has championed many high-profile reform initiatives, including proposed Opportunity Scholarships legislation, expanded charter school authorizing practices, transparent A-F school letter grades, and many other policies to bring quality education to Tennessee families that need it most.

As part of the announcement, TennesseeCAN released its first annual Tennessee Education Snapshot.  The report provides a broad and interactive view of Tennessee’s most essential education statistics.  It includes a comprehensive collection of facts and data ranging from academic achievement measures and student demographics to teacher preparation figures and tax dollar cost distributions, all within the context of larger national comparisons.

In examining the key data points within the Tennessee Education Snapshot, Easley noted, “We have experienced extraordinary growth over the past five years that is due to the hard work of our educators, students, and innovative state policies, and there are still opportunities for our state to improve. This ‘Education Snapshot’ both outlines current data in Tennessee education and informs the work ahead to ensure our state is not only a national model for education policy, but a leader in overall performance as well.”

Note: the ‘Snapshot’ is HERE.

Durham eyes lawsuit against the state over ouster

A day after his expulsion from the Tennessee Legislature, former state Rep. Jeremy Durham is telling Nashville television stations that plans a lawsuit against the state over the ouster.

Durham told News 2 (WKRN) Wednesday he is likely to file suit against the State of Tennessee out of principle. He couldn’t elaborate on how much he’s seeking in damages… While Durham has admitted to being too flirtatious at times, he insists he never harassed or was inappropriate with anyone during his time in office.

“A lot of the allegations though, if you look at what they’re saying, most of it is like ‘He asked me to get a beer.’ That’s most of the allegations,” said Durham. “If getting a beer is all it takes, then we need to expel a lot of the General Assembly, not just me.”

Durham claims the attorney general’s findings – that he had sex with a woman in his Capitol Hill office – are “completely untrue.”

And he also says his expulsion from the legislature during the special-called session was unconstitutional.

“I think everyone in there who voted realized that they voted on rules, those rules weren’t followed,” Durham told News 2. “I was entitled to a hearing and I didn’t get it. And Speaker Harwell still gets to gavel me out.” Continue reading

Koch-sponsored forum talks TN criminal justice reform

Conservatives gathered in Nashville Wednesday for wine, hors d’oeuvres and conversation over criminal justice reform, reports The Tennessean. They discussed topics ranging from curbing court fees that prevent people from obtaining driver’s licenses, thus capturing people in a cycle of repeat offenses and poverty, to providing jobs for people who are released from prison. Panelists also showed support for decriminalizing minor, non-violent offenses as a way to cut down the state’s prison population.

“It’s important that conservatives understand the reality of our criminal justice system,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of conservative thinktank the Beacon Center of Tennessee. “We want conservatives to understand what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years isn’t working.”

For some like Owen, the dollars make sense to tackle reform.

“By and large we’ve done very little in the state of Tennessee to reform our criminal justice system, and it’s cost taxpayers a significant amount of money,” he said. “It’s become the third-highest expenditure in our state budget and our crime rates have continued to go up.”

The event was hosted by the Charles Koch Institute, an outreach effort backed by one of the nation’s richest and most politically influential men.

Perhaps luckily timed because the Tennessee General Assembly’s special session brought lawmakers to Nashville the same day, those in the audience included state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and several other legislators. Also there were active local donor and businessman Lee Beaman (who is on the Beacon Center board) and Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City in Memphis, a group of lawyers and activists who advocate justice reform.

Task force can’t resolve doctors-versus-nurses turf war

A divisive “turf war” between doctors and nurse practitioners has broken out across Tennessee and a state task force created by state legislators to find common ground has, thus far, only illuminated the depth of the schism, reports The Tennessean.

The dispute centers on exactly what types of treatment can be provided by advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), and under what level of oversight. Tennessee is among the dozen states with the most restrictive scope of practice laws — and the reform debate is a recurring flashpoint in legislative sessions. The nurses contend they are equipped to administer many of the same primary care and preventative treatments as doctors. Further, they point to a growing primary care physician shortage across the region.

Doctors, meanwhile, question whether nurse practitioners can offer the same level of care and have opposed efforts to expand the scope of treatment, preferring legislation to reinforce physician roles in primary care.

The task force created by Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, was designed to give doctors and APRNs — nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists — a forum outside of legislative session to find consensus on how to reform the rules governing treatment. The resulting recommendations could result in legislation that impacts how Tennesseans receive primary care — a key step toward improving the state’s dismal health.

Yet the debate has devolved into a fight between doctors and nurse practitioners, with both sides becoming entrenched and the task force’s meetings becoming forums for people to air individual frustrations and opinions.

“Reluctantly I say no (we haven’t made progress). We’ve met twice and we’re closer to the beginning than the end,” said Dr. John Hale, a primary care doctor in Union City, who is co-chair of the panel alongside Carole Myers, a registered nurse and associate professor at the University of Tennessee College of Nursing.

AP story on squabbles over ditching Durham

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A special legislative session to fix a costly drunken driving law kicked off Monday with a squabble about how or whether Tennessee lawmakers should go about trying to expel one of their own.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam hastily called the special session because Tennessee stands to lose $60 million in federal road money because of a new state law that increased the maximum allowable blood alcohol content for drivers below the drinking age.

While quickly fixing that to bring it back into line with federal zero-tolerance standards appears to be headed for easy approval, an unrelated ouster effort against a lawmaker who was the subject of an extensive sexual harassment investigation led to heated exchanges on the House floor.

The probe detailed allegations that Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin had improper sexual contact with at least 22 women over the course of his four years in office. Continue reading