Category Archives: Lobbyists

TSEA hires former Harwell aide as new lobbyist

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee State Employees Association has hired Paul Overholser as Government Affairs Director.

“I had the opportunity to work with Paul for 10 years when he worked as legislative assistant to Speaker Beth Harwell,” TSEA Executive Director Randy Stamps said. “Paul’s experience working with legislators on policy dealing with State Employees, combined with the respect he has on the Hill, will help TSEA better serve our members into the future.”

Overholser worked for Tennessee General Assembly as Speaker Beth Harwell’s Legislative Assistant from 2006-2010. More recently, Paul served as Policy and Research Analyst for the House State Government and Local Government Committees from 2010-2014.

“As a former state employee, I understand firsthand what it means to be a civil servant and the challenges that all of us face,” Paul Overholser said. “I am very excited to work for TSEA. I really appreciate the loyalty, enthusiasm, and pride I’ve witnessed just from my first week and I look forward to using my contacts and experience to help all state employees.”

Paul Overholser holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Austin Peay State University.

Tom Ingram’s pay for UT ‘communications strategies:’ $240K

Veteran political operative Tom Ingram will be paid up to $240,000 for a year’s work “developing communications strategies” for the University of Tennessee in connection with a lawsuit contending UT was a “hostile sexual environment” for women, reports the News Sentinel.

If paid to the maximum, that would be more money than the highest-paid communications executive for the university.

While the one-page agreement, a letter from UT to its outside legal counsel, doesn’t identify the specialist, Tom Ingram confirmed he continues to work for the Nashville-based Neal & Harwell law firm, which represents the university in Title IX matters.

Even though the lawsuit is settled, work remains to be done on media inquiries to UT President Joe DiPietro on the forming of an independent commission that will review the UT system’s policies and programs to address sexual assault, Ingram said.

He said issues like Title IX get “so complicated and so multi-dimensional” that the settlement, which looks like an end, really isn’t the end of the follow-up work.

Ingram said there is no set time frame for when that work will end.

A paid consultant for Haslam until last July, Ingram is the founder of Nashville-based public relations and lobbying firm the Ingram Group. (Note: He’s also been a longtime political aide to U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.)

“It’s a shame that they (the university) were in that situation,” said Williams, whose lobbying organization focuses on government accountability. “How much difference it was having Tom (Ingram) do that? I don’t know.”

He wonders what the university received that it couldn’t get from its communications staff.

…The letter confirming Ingram’s hiring, dated May 2, doesn’t include specifics of the “communications strategies” he was hired to execute. His services, however, are on top of the more than $424,500 in combined salary for communications leaders for the system and campus, Vice President Tonja Johnson and former Vice Chancellor Margie Nichols.

Ingram and his employees, through the law firm, are helping with “inquiries about the Title IX case” and “providing communications support for follow-up efforts that are part of the settlement,” Johnson said in an email.

Those efforts include the president’s commission and more, such as employee training.

ECD’s Clint Brewer moves to consulting business

News release from Stones River Group
NASHVILLE, TN – Stones River Group president Mark Cate today announced the addition of veteran communications executive and former journalist Clint Brewer as the company’s newest principal. Clint will join Washington, D.C. transplant and former Podesta Group VP Alexandra Sollberger in helming the firm’s public relations shop.

“Stones River Group has experienced consistent growth over the last year and we’re bringing on new talent to offer enhanced services for our clients,” Cate said. “Clint is a terrific addition to our company, offering clients a deep understanding of media and business. His leadership skills and relationships are a tremendous asset.”

Brewer was the Assistant Commissioner for Communications and Marketing at the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD), where he helped lead Governor Bill Haslam’s economic development program. Prior to joining TNECD, Brewer was a journalist and media executive for 16 years, serving as editor of the Nashville City Paper and the Lebanon Democrat as well as government and politics editor of the Tennessean.

“I am incredibly excited to join Stones River Group,” Brewer said. “This company is made up of exceptionally talented people. I’m looking forward to putting my experience and skills to work for our clients.”

Stones River Group has expanded its communications offerings in recent months to meet growing client demand. In March, the firm brought Sollberger on board from the Podesta Group, one of the nation’s top government relations and PR firms, where she provided strategic counsel to a diverse array of clients, including education nonprofits and postsecondary institutions, Fortune500 companies, trade associations and coalitions, and financial services institutions.

Previously, Sollberger worked for several years as a communications director and senior advisor in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Committee on Small Business and in the office of former Congressman Geoff Davis (R-KY).

“Both Alex and Clint are smart, well-respected communicators with impressive backgrounds and considerable reach into the media,” Cate said. “We’re excited to add their strategic expertise to the team and look forward to ushering in the next chapter of success at our firm.”

Cate’s consulting (not lobbying) helps clients

The Tennessean has a Sunday story raising the question of whether Mark Cate has engaged in lobbying since he stepped down a year ago as Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief of staff. Cate says he has not, though clients of his consulting firm have done quite well in their dealings with state government.

The clients Cate represents have landed $3 million in state funding, successfully secured approval to open a new mental health facility in East Tennessee and navigated a thorny legislative session for the tourism industry in the last year. Cate also was hired for a $10,000 per month job by a private foundation to oversee the construction of the new state museum, a project he helped lead as one of Haslam’s top advisors.

Cate and his deputies did not register with the state to lobby for 2016. State law forbids high-ranking officials from lobbying for one year after they leave office. Cate, who left the governor’s office on July 31, 2015, said he played no role in landing the state funding for clients because he and his firm were only consultants.

…The Tennessean reviewed nearly two years of emails and text messages between Cate and top state officials from six departments. The hundreds of emails and texts, from late 2014 through early this year, paint a picture of Cate’s broad influence on state government during his time as chief of staff and his continued clout as the principal for his new company, Stones River Group.

Stones River Group works for the National Museum of African American Music, planned to open in Nashville; Strategic Behavioral Health, a mental health company in Memphis; the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp.; and three nonprofit organizations created while Cate worked under Haslam to support policy initiatives favored by the Haslam administration. Cate says all of his contracts note that his company is not allowed to lobby. Continue reading

Sunday column: Independent spenders educating voters?

Speculating on trends on money in Tennessee politics, halfway through the 2016 election season:

In the 2014 legislative elections, the cheapest seat in the House was won by state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who reported spending a total of $235.38 in winning re-election. In a solidly Democratic district, he had no primary opponent that year, but he did have a token Republican foe who reported spending exactly $200.

The most expensive 2014 House seat, going by total campaign expenditures, went to Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, who spent $270,141 to be re-elected. In a solidly Republican district, he had a primary opponent who was outspent substantially, but no November foe. Continue reading

Sunday column: On a legislator’s plea to ‘lobby me’

In a late night text message to a woman lobbyist, as recorded in a recent state attorney general’s investigative report, state Rep. Jeremy Durham wrote: “I’m bored as hell. Lobby me.”

Such a plea for lobbyist attention is surely not the most offensive of Durham doings recounted in the report on his interaction with 22 women lobbyists, legislative staffers and interns. But maybe it best reflects a subtext in the overall report that delves a bit into the culture – or maybe it’s a subculture — of Tennessee’s Legislatorland.

Says the report at another point:

“The investigation revealed that lobbyists, much like staff members and interns, depend on maintaining a good working relationship with legislators for their livelihood and future success. A lobbyist depends on favorable support from legislators to satisfy and build a client base, and many female lobbyists interviewed described the substantial financial and professional stake they have in avoiding anything that would jeopardize a good relationship with legislators. As Jane Doe #4 put it, lobbyists do not have clients without legislators.” Continue reading

Americans for Prosperity targets Sen. Overbey

News release from Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee
NASHVILLE – Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee (AFP-TN), the Volunteer State’s leading grassroots advocate for economic freedom, has announced it will hold State Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) accountable for his support of Obamacare expansion in Tennessee. Sen. Overbey was the sponsor of Governor Haslam’s InsureTN proposal to expand Obamacare.

AFP-TN activists and volunteers have already knocked on 3,000 doors and will knock on at least 5,000 doors before the effort is over. Many of Overbey’s constituents have been surprised to learn about his support for Obamacare expansion and his failing vote record. AFP-TN has also posted social media and sent mail pieces educating people about Overbey’s betrayal of Tennesseans.

“We are calling on Senator Overbey to drop the lies and repent from his Obamacare expansion support,” said AFP-TN state director, Andrew Ogles. “Holding elected officials accountable is what we do. Senator Overbey can try and distance himself from Obamacare now, but we are here to remind his constituents what he’s actually been doing and voting for in Nashville. It’s one thing when a legislator proclaims to believe in big government and increased spending. It’s entirely different when a legislator tells his constituents one thing, then does the opposite.”

Overbey was the only Republican state legislator to receive an “F” on the 2016 TennesseeTaxpayer Scorecard. Overbey’s low score is attributed to his sponsorships of Obamacare expansion through the legislation known as InsureTN, his opposition to school choice for special-needs students, and his failure to protect property rights in the legislature.

Overbey has begun robo-dialing Tennesseans calling AFP-TN grassroots activists a “special-interest group” and refuting his affiliation with Obamacare.

A recording of the Overbey response says, after the senator introduces himself: “I’m sorry to bother you, but I feel it’s important that I respond to a special interest group helping my opponent spread lies about my position. I want you to know that I do not, and have not, supported Obamacare.”

Note: Via email, an AFP spokeswoman advises that “all efforts are educational grassroots lobbying” — meaning the cost of those efforts will not be disclosed under relevant laws as campaign spending. AFP is also set up under federal law to avoid disclosure of those who donate to the organization.

UT diversity tops Beacon TN ‘pork’ for 2016

News release from Beacon Center of Tennessee
In the organization’s 11th annual Tennessee Pork Report, the Beacon Center reveals that state and local government officials squandered $480 million of taxpayers’ hard-earned money this past year.

For the second consecutive year, the Beacon Center allowed the people of Tennessee to pick the infamous “Pork of the Year” award. After hundreds of votes, the “winner” of the award was the University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion. This taxpayer-funded office “encouraged” students and faculty to use gender neutral pronouns such as “ze” and “zir” in lieu of “he” and “she” and tried to ensure that holiday parties on the campus were not “Christmas parties in disguise.”

The report highlights this mismanagement of taxpayer funds and includes the following examples:

•Nearly $56 million taxpayer dollars to fund the canceled-then-revived-on-cable television series Nashville
•$1.5 million paid to out of state artists to litter music city with tacky art
•$900,000 in Washington-style earmarks for Hamilton County commissioners to squander on their pet political projects

After more than a decade of exposing government waste, the Beacon Center remains committed to holding government officials accountable and keeping taxpayers informed. We hope the Pork Report will create a more responsible and transparent government that prioritizes taxpayers.

You can read the full Tennessee Pork Report by clicking here.

More on Durham report — quotes and comments

Some passages from the final attorney general’s investigative report on the doings of state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin:

“Representative Durham’s position as the freshman class leader, Majority Party Whip and member of a number of committees, gave him access to legislative staff members, interns, and lobbyists, albeit for different reasons. The investigation revealed that legislative staff members and interns rely on their relationships with legislators for employment and references for future employment opportunities at the Capitol. There was a perception among some staff members we interviewed that those who displease a legislator may risk loss of those opportunities, if bad references are shared among the legislative members.

“The power differential between a legislator and a staff member or intern is more apparent than that between a lobbyist, who is independently employed, and a legislator. The investigation revealed that lobbyists, much like staff members and interns, depend on maintaining a good working relationship with legislators for their livelihood and future success. A lobbyist depends on favorable support from legislators to satisfy and build a client base, and many female lobbyists interviewed described the substantial financial and professional stake they have in avoiding anything that would jeopardize a good relationship with legislators. As Jane Doe #4 put it, lobbyists do not have clients without legislators.

“Consequently, Representative Durham was able to use his position as an elected official to approach female staff members, interns, and staff members in a manner that they would normally reject as inappropriate and sexual in nature.”

–“I’m bored as hell. Lobby me.” Late night text message to woman lobbyist.

–“I’m trying to elevate our relations to a more amiable situation.” Another text message to a lady lobbyist.

–“Sounds like someone is a church skipping heathen. No wonder you wanted Medicaid expanded.” Another text message.

“I’d like to see you naked around midnight.” Message to a “20-year-old college student/political worker” — an intern at the time — who said she had sex with Durham at his office.

Continue reading

AFP gives top rating to 19 state senators, 54 representatives (all Republican)

Americans for Prosperity’s Tennessee chapter has completed its rating of state legislators, placing a majority of both the House and Senate members — 19 senators and 54 representatives, all Republicans — in top category, deeming them “taxpayer heroes.” House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey both are on that list.

Twenty-eight legislators — four senators, 24 representatives — are declared “taxpayer zeros,” the lowest ranking. All but one — Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville — are Democrats.

The AFP system gives or subtracts points based on votes with extra points given for sponsoring bills the group likes. Scores are on a numerical system, top rating being a score of 93 or above; lowest a score of 65 or below.

Top ratings — 105 points with bonuses for sponsorship — went to Republican Sens. Mark Green of Clarksville and Delores Gresham of Somerville along with Republican Reps. Mike Carter of Ootelwah, Martin Daniel of Knoxville and Debra Moody of Covington.

Lowest ratings — 23 points — went to House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh and Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville.

Highest ranking Democrats were Rep. John DeBerry and Sen. Reginald Tate, both of Memphis. Lowest-ranking Republican in the House was Rep. Kent Calfee of Kingston at 66. Overbey had a 54, the lowest GOP score.

The scorecard is HERE.

News release is below. Continue reading