A bill repealing the need for corporations to disclose political contributions and more than doubling the amount of money partisan caucuses can put directly into legislative campaigns fell two votes short of passage Wednesday on the House floor.
The bill (HB643) by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada would also repeal a law prohibiting direct political contributions to legislators by insurance companies, which now must form political action committees to make donations.
The vote was 48-41 with 50 votes required for passage. Thirteen of Casada’s fellow Republicans voted no on his bill, two others abstained and eight simply refused to vote at all – including House Speaker Beth Harwell, who was presiding over the chamber. Democrats unanimously opposed it.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada sponsored the bill, calling for passage as a means of bringing more political contributions into the state political system.
“Limiting money is limiting free speech,” declared Casada.
But critics faulted the bill for putting more money into state politics with less transparency. Perhaps the most impassioned protest came from Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, who said the flow of new money under the bill could be “perceived as unethical.”
“If you have received thousands and thousands of dollars, you may feel like your vote has been purchased,” she said.
“We are not bribeable,” replied Casada.
Other criticism came from Rep. Kent Williams of Elizabethton, the Legislature’s only independent, who said insurance companies would make political donations and pass the cost on to customers paying premiums, and several Democrats who objected to repealing the disclosure requirement for corporations.
Casada said the corporate reporting of donations is unnecessary because candidates receiving the money would still have to disclose receipt of the money.
Critics pointed out that the Registry of Election Finance now matches corporate and PAC contribution reports of donations made with candidate reports of donations received – occasionally finding cases where a candidate failed to report a donation. The bill would have removed the ability to make such a check with corporate money.
Statement from Dick Williams, Common Cause of Tennessee:
House Bill 643 by Casada / SB 787 by Watson & Ramsey contain several revisions to the current campaign finance laws in Tennessee.
This bill has received little discussion in the public and in committee, but is scheduled for floor votes in this, presumably, last week of the session. Many of the provisions, when explained in the context of current state & federal campaign law are relatively non controversial.
The exception, so far, is the increase in the limits on contributions from PACs controlled by political parties or caucuses. While Common Cause/TN has some concern about the amounts of the proposed increases in those limits, we are more concerned about the effect of a provision that has received little attention to date. Section 5 of the bill would delete the word “corporation” from the definition of a PAC.
While section 3 of the bill clarifies that corporate or insurance company contributions are held to the same limits as are PACs, the deletion from the definition of a PAC means that corporations, like individuals, would not have to report their contributions to the Registry of Election Finance.
PACs, unlike individuals, are required to report their political contributions to the Registry of Election Finance. Since the definition of a PAC includes a committee, club, association or other group of persons who receive or make political contributions, the effect of Section 5 of this bill would mean that a small group or club that made contributions would continue to report to the Registry, but corporations would not. Certainly, the public would see this as unfair and inappropriate.
One of the important tools for the Registry to assure the accuracy of the campaign disclosure information is the cross-checking of PAC reports with those of candidates. Frequently, discrepancies are found and corrected. In most cases, the figures are reconciled as a bookkeeping error on the part of either the PAC or the candidate or both.
Although we are concerned about possible amendments to this broad captioned bill contrary to the public interest, we believe that Section 5 should be deleted, if the bill is adopted.
Revelations about 4th District Congressman Scott DesJarlais didn’t prevent some big corporations and his Republican colleagues from donating to his re-election campaign, reports Chris Carroll.
Political action committees representing at least 15 corporations and interest groups — including the National Pro-Life Alliance — gave more than $25,000 to the Jasper Republican after the Huffington Post published the revelations Oct. 10. The story brought national attention to Tennessee’s 4th District and the congressman’s claims of anti-abortion credentials.
More groups, the Tea Party Express among them, ponied up after the Chattanooga Times Free Press published an Oct. 28 interview with a second woman who had an affair with DesJarlais while he was her physician.
Asked whether the revelations affected their support for DesJarlais, Tea Party Express spokesman Taylor Budowich said the group believes the economy is the most important issue.
“We focus exclusively on the candidate’s stand on how to right America’s fiscal woes,” Budowich said. “We have made no decisions about 2014 in any district.”
A National Pro-Life Alliance representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Campaign finance records released this month also reveal that the Jasper Republican’s late-campaign donors included 16 House colleagues — all men, all Republican and none from Tennessee — who gave a combined $48,000. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, the third-ranking House Republican, donated $5,000 a day before the election.
A $2,000 contribution came from House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, one of two congressional DesJarlais backers who responded to a Times Free Press inquiry.
“Chairman Issa looks forward to continuing to work with Congressman DesJarlais as he pursues the best interest of his district and our nation in the coming Congress,” Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said Friday.
DesJarlais sits on Issa’s committee. The other respondent was U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma.
“‘No comment’ is Congressman Lucas’ response,” Lucas spokesman Laramie Adams said.
Two fellow physicians-turned-politicians, Reps. Andy Harris of Maryland and Tom Price of Georgia, gave money after crucial parts of the controversy were published and confirmed by DesJarlais.
According to the American Medical Association, it’s misconduct for a doctor to have a sexual relationship with a patient.
News release from Tennessee Democratic Party:
NASHVILLE – Republicans are pushing a last-minute change to weaken campaign finance laws and make it easier for corporations to give to political campaigns.
House Bill 3281 would remove disclosure rules that require corporations to register as political action committees in order to give to candidates. Additionally, the bill removes aggregate PAC limits that prohibit candidates from receiving all of their funding from PACs and, for the first time, would allow insurance companies to donate to candidates.
“Under these new rules, corporations aren’t just ‘people,’ they are super-people that receive special privileges and access that everyday Tennesseans can’t get,” Forrester said. “Instead of using the last few minutes of this legislative session to put Tennesseans back to work, we’re seeing an extreme move that hurts the working and middle class families by putting special interests ahead of our families’ best interests.”
The law, if passed as amended by Casada, would allow corporations to adhere to the PAC donation limits, currently $10,700 per candidate, but would allow them to donate as individuals, effectively giving corporations a “best of both worlds” situation.
“If Rep. Casada is dead set on treating corporations like people, why not apply the same contribution limits to them as we do to human beings?” said Forrester.
During the discussion of the amendment, Rep. Casada either misrepresented or outright lied about the impetus for this last minute legislation, namely, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. Casada stated that the law passed in 2011 requiring corporations to file as PACs in order to donate to candidates was a “mistake” and was “out of compliance” with the Supreme Court decision. This is absolutely false. Citizens United addressed Independent Expenditures, and expressly confirmed that bans on corporations donating to individuals are still legal.
Video: Rep. Casada says during the House State and Local Government Committee that this amendment would put the state in compliance with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wswJdGVOJMQ
Court Unlikely To Stop With Citizens United – Eliza Carney, National Journal Dec 18, 2010
“The court’s dramatic reversal does not threaten the existing ban on direct corporate and union campaign contributions. So while those players may now lavish money from their treasuries on independent campaign expenditures, they still may not donate directly to candidates.”
Life After Citizens United – NCSL: “the ruling does not directly affect state laws”
Some of Tennessee’s largest corporate voices headlined a broad blitz against a pair of gun bills in the Tennessee General Assembly Tuesday, reports the Nashville Business Journal (and others).
The companies — including Nashville’s Bridgestone Americas Inc., FedEx Corp. of Memphis and Volkswagen’s Chattanooga presence — appeared alongside representatives of numerous industries before two legislative committees.
Their message: Bills that the National Rifle Association are pushing compromise companies’ constitutional property rights, jeopardize employment policies and create the potential for workplace tragedy.
At issue are two bills. One would prohibit employers from denying employees the right to bring firearms to work if they keep them locked in their vehicles. A companion bill would prohibit any kind of discrimination based on gun possession.
….Tuesday’s rounds of testimony were an extraordinary display of corporate outcry, with numerous industries and typically mum companies speaking out. The business lobby has for weeks been ramping up a coalition with a much broader scope and deeper bench than most fights involving companies usually garner.
They’re running up against another powerful lobby for Republicans controlling the Legislature, however. Today’s testimony came after the NRA and other gun advocates spoke in favor of the legislation.
Mark Hogan, vice president of security for FedEx, discussed the numerous secure facilities the Memphis company has in Tennessee. He stressed a company’s property rights, as well as safety concerns.
See also, for example, the Chattanooga TFP (focused on Volkswagen), the Commercial Appeal (an ‘epic political battle’), and WPLN.
More than a year in advance of the 2012 Tennessee general election, some corporations have begun filing the necessary paperwork to make direct contributions to state political candidates as authorized by a law enacted earlier this year by the Legislature.
Also, the Registry of Election Finance has issued a memo, posted on its website, in response to “numerous questions” about the law, which says that corporations wanting to make a donation of more than $250 must register as a political action committee and file reports on the contributions they make.
Companies donating that amount or less to individual candidates need not register, according to Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Registry.
There’s another, larger exemption from registration for corporations that only want to give money to other PACs, including those operated by legislative leaders and the Democratic and Republican parties.
The contribution limits that apply to PACs also apply to corporations in the case of donations to candidates. For state Senate candidates, for example, the limit is $10,700 per election or $21,400 for the primary and general election combined.
But, as the memo says, “The amount of contributions the corporation may make to a PAC(s) is unlimited.” In theory, then, a corporation could donate millions of dollars to the state Republican or Democratic party if it wished and the party could then spend the money making contributions to legislative candidates.
The candidate, PAC or party receiving the money would have to report taking the donations from corporations. Any such contributions since the law took effect, however, will not have to be reported until January of next year.
The handful of corporations registering so far include Daiichi Sankyo Inc., the U.S. affiliate of a Tokyo-based pharmaceutical company; gasoline-producer ConocoPhillips; California-based Allergen Inc., a health care company focused on pharmaceuticals; Comcast Corp., a cable TV company; and Swisher International, a Florida-based cigar producer.
A reporter’s inquiries to some of the companies last week were generally ignored. An exception was Joe Augustus, senior vice president of Swisher, who sent this email response:
“Swisher does not have state PACs so corporate contributions are our only way to support business-minded legislators who share our companies business philosophy in TN. This is not uncommon in other states where we do business.”
Comcast already has an active PAC in Tennessee. Curtis Person III, who represents the company as a lobbyist, said he could not speak for the company on why it would want both, but would relay the request for comment to corporate officials. There was no response from them.
As part of a story on pending legislation to allow direct corporate donations to Tennessee political campaigns, Chas Sisk notes that corporations – through political action committees and corporate executives – are already funneling some pretty big bucks to candidates.
A Tennessean survey of campaign finance records found that political action committees affiliated with the 25 biggest companies based in Tennessee have given more than $742,000 to candidates or other PACs since 2009. State law permits these donations because employees fund the company PACs through voluntary contributions.
The state’s most active political action committee was Federal Express PAC, which gave $450,000 to Tennessee candidates and other PACs. Such spending accounted for more than one-fourth of the $1.6 million that Federal Express PAC took in from employees nationwide.
Employees of these companies also gave more than $565,000 on their own to candidates and political organizations. Nearly 40 percent of that money came from employees of the various divisions of Knoxville-based Pilot. Gov. Bill Haslam is a former Pilot executive, brother of the company’s president and son of its founder.
The review did not include donations from employee PACs tied to companies based outside the state. Several such PACs, including those affiliated with Pfizer Inc. and AT&T, have been active donors to Tennessee candidates.