WTVF-TV continues a review of Haslam administration emails with a report on indications that Tom Ingram was consulting on political campaign matters while paid personally by the governor. If so, that could mean disclosure of the payments is required under state law as the equivalent of campaign self-financing… but the governor has refused to disclose the amount of his personal payments to Ingram.
From Ben Hall’s report: State e-mails, obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, raise new questions about whether Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam broke campaign finance laws by paying lobbyist Tom Ingram out of his own pocket.
The emails reveal Ingram participated in campaign-related planning events while he was on the governor’s private payroll.
…The governor insisted that there’s nothing wrong with having lobbyist and consultant Tom Ingram on his private payroll. He said he hired Ingram to help with statewide “organizational” issues.
“It’s not fair to have the state pay Tom — and he wasn’t doing political work where it should be campaign,” Haslam said last month.
But the new emails reveal Ingram continued to do campaign work, planning for the governor’s next election, while he was on the governor’s private payroll.
In October of 2012, the governor’s chief of staff, Mark Cate, e-mailed Ingram about a “2014 planning retreat.” Cate asked Ingram, as well as Haslam’s campaign finance director and key office staff, to set aside eight hours over two days for the retreat.
Later, Ingram suggested having the retreat at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel because he preferred “to get away from government space.”
Haslam’s office confirmed the retreat was campaign related about his reelection…. But even though Ingram was receiving regular monthly retainer payments, the governor’s office now says Ingram was not paid for the time he attended the campaign retreat.
Haslam’s office did not provide details of the campaign retreat, but said it only lasted a couple of hours.
…Other emails reveal that in a September 2012 discussion with the subject line “planning session,” Ingram told Mark Cate we “also needs [sic] to discuss super PAC.” Haslam’s office said Cate did not know what the “Super PAC” reference meant. (Note: Haslam has given money to Karl Rove’s ‘Super PAC,’ HERE)
…A spokesman for the governor said that Haslam started paying Ingram out of his campaign account on July 1. He said that was the plan all along as Haslam’s reelection grew closer and it had nothing to do with outside pressure.
However, the governor has no plans to amend past disclosures to reveal what he has paid Ingram.
As a high-profile FBI investigation of Gov. Bill Haslam’s lucrative family business grinds on, a loophole in Tennessee law is increasing the secrecy that has long surrounded his personal wealth, reports the Commercial Appeal. The scope and detail of Haslam’s assets are largely missing from his most recent Statement of Disclosure of Interests, an annual accounting of investments and income that elected officials are required to make public.
That’s because, much as former Gov. Phil Bredesen before him, Haslam created a blind trust that shields most of his vast financial portfolio from pubic disclosure. Haslam is acting in accordance with a state law that allows legislators, the governor and members of his cabinet to keep assets off disclosure forms when those assets are part of a blind trust.
The difference in the degree of disclosure is stark for Haslam, whose family business, Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J, is ranked by Forbes as the nation’s sixth largest privately owned company with $29.2 billion in annual sales:
As a candidate in 2010, Haslam listed 250 separate investments worth $10,000 or more.
In his latest disclosure, filed April 5, he listed only 11 such investments.
…Tennessee’s blind trust exemption to financial disclosure requirements appears much less restrictive than ones governing federal executive branch employees and public officials in Florida.
Federal law requires a member of the executive branch with a blind trust to estimate the worth of that trust by listing a range of its value.
Even more stringent, a bill signed last week by Florida Gov. Rick Scott requires public officials there to list the full value of a blind trust. In addition, Florida law requires public officials who form a blind trust to give a public accounting of individual assets placed in the trust.
Tennessee has no such requirements, said Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.
Consequently, Haslam’s latest disclosure simply lists “Haslam Blind Trust,” as one of a handful of investments and sources of income along with Campbell’s name and address as trustee.
…In addition to the blind trust, Haslam’s April 5 disclosure lists 11 investments, including Pilot and three real estate ventures, Hasbitt II, Hasbitt III and LVL Properties. The report lists a new investment in an entity called Lost Valley Ranch Corporation. Details were unavailable.
He lists nine sources of income, including his gubernatorial salary, which he returned, Pilot, and PTC, Inc., a Pilot venture. State law requires office holders to list sources of income of $200 or more and investments worth at least $10,000 but doesn’t require a specific figure.
In contrast, Haslam’s 2010 disclosure of sources of income and investments covered 12 pages,.
…Bredesen…said he doesn’t recall the blind trust exemption being added to his bill (in 2006), but said he long considered financial disclosure requirements for the executive branch to be “extremely light.” That’s why he issued an executive order requiring the governor and top aides to disclose how much income they earn. Under that order, Haslam, who made a fortune in health care, disclosed he earned $7.8 million in 2007, for example.
However, Haslam rescinded Bredesen’s executive order when he took office in January 2011 and the rule no longer applies.
Saying more openness is needed on the part of Tennessee policy makers, Rep. Susan Lynn has introduced legislation that would require the disclosure of all real property they own other than their primary home, according to TNReport. The Mt. Juliet Republican’s HB 1063 would require all elected and certain appointed public officials, such as those on local and regional planning commissions or state boards, to disclose any real property owned by them, their spouses or any minor children living at home.
“Back in 2006, when we did the ethics reform, we wanted this to be part of the disclosure and simply couldn’t get it done at that time,” said Lynn, who served in the House for eight years before running for state Sen. Mae Beavers’ seat and losing in 2010.
“Leaving the legislature for two years, like I did, you start thinking about the things you wish you’d done or could have done, and this was one of those things.”
…Lynn’s bill would require the disclosure of the address of the property and the month and year of its acquisition, but not everyone in the General Assembly is in favor of it.
Many have told her that the information is a matter of public record, and that should be sufficient. Her argument is that since it is public record, “What’s wrong with putting it all in one neat, consolidated place to make that disclosure?
“I’m not feeling a warm breeze right now from the [Local Government] committee,” said Lynn, who postponed a vote on the bill until March 12. “I really feel like I’m standing out there alone. I know it’s the right thing to do, and I hope they will be amenable.”
She said she would entertain an amendment excepting state legislators from the new disclosure requirement, if it’s the only way to make it a requirement for local government officials.
A House subcommittee approved Wednesday legislation (HB884) that exempts members of the Democratic and Republican state executive committees from filing conflict-of-interest reports required of state and local government officials and candidates for elective office.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he sponsored the bill at the request of “a couple” of Republican Executive Committee members and also talked with some Democratic legislators, who said they had no objections.
McCormick said that, since the executive committee members have no oversight of taxpayer dollars, they feel there is no reason to require disclosure of their financial interests – which makes some of them uncomfortable. He expressed willingness to modify the measure, or even drop it, if there are objections. But none came from the committee.
Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, said the party had nothing to do with proposing the bill, but thinks it is a good idea.
“This is a bipartisan effort that relieves party activists, who are not in a policy-making capacity, from an unnecessary government regulation,” Leatherwood said in an email.
A bill that could exempt planning commission members in six East Tennessee counties from disclosing their financial interests has been introduced by Sen. Ken Yager and Rep. Kent Calfee.
Calfee, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Kingston, said HB15 was introduced at the request of Roane County Mayor Ron Woody.
The measure also would apply in Campbell, Fentress, Morgan, Pickett, Rhea and Scott Counties which are included along with Roane in Yager’s state Senate district. Yager said the other counties were added because of a “communications error.” The senator said he has written officials in the other counties and will amend the bill to delete those counties where an objection is raised.
Planning commission members were not required to file the disclosures until last year, when the Legislature enacted a bill adding them.
The disclosure statements in question require public officials to list their financial holdings and sources of income, but not the amount of income. Planning commission members were not on the list of those required to file the statements until the General Assembly added them in legislation approved last year with little debate and by almost unanimous margins.
The first disclosure reports since the new law took effect are due on Jan. 31, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
Woody said in an interview that the new law is “kind of intrusive” and a deterrent to finding people to serve on the commissions, which typically pay very little or nothing for their services. They are in a different situation than elected officials such as himself, he said.
“It may have been adopted for good reasons and this is an unintended consequence. Or it may have been adopted for bad reasons… (with the intent of) killing our planning commissions. I don’t know. But I’m a firm believer in the need for planning commissions,” Woody said.
The bill approved last year was sponsored by Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who was not available for comment. A spokeswoman, however, said it was the senator’s own idea. In a committee meeting last year, Tracy said the bill was “just common sense” and that those overseeing development should have to disclose potential conflicts of interest.
Woody said the Roane County Planning Commission has “ethical members,” including some who retired in the area after a business career “up north” and who may have substantial stock and real estate holdings.
By making their holdings public, he said, “you get to the point where people don’t want to serve.”
Yager said he basically agrees with Woody.
“In these rural counties, they (planning commissioners) are essentially volunteers – in Roane County, I think they get $50 a month – and it’s hard to attract people anyway,” Yager said.
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais may have persevered through a series of damaging revelations to win a second term in Congress, he all but exhausted his campaign account.
DesJarlais, a Jasper physician who had sexual relationships with patients and once urged one of them to seek an abortion, spent $1.25 million on his campaign to defeat Democratic challenger Eric Stewart, and was left with just $15,660 on hand when the dust settled.
DesJarlais has been left largely isolated in Congress following his victory. For example, he was the lone Republican member of Tennessee’s congressional delegation to be left off Lamar Alexander’s bid for a third term in the U.S. Senate.
But DesJarlais has rebuffed calls for his resignation or that he abandon intentions to run for another term representing the 4th Congressional District. That hasn’t stopped several Republicans from expressing interest in running for the seat, and DesJarlais’ depleted campaign coffers will do little to dissuade them from mounting a bid.
DesJarlais spent $439,639 in the final reporting period, with about $330,000 going toward TV advertising and $61,000 to direct mail. (Note: The FEC website says his total spending for the campaign was $1,257,629; the remaining balance, $15,660.)
During his 2010 and 2012 campaigns, DesJarlais tried to cast doubt on reports of violent behavior and multiple affairs before his divorce was finalized in 2001. But court transcripts released the week after the election showed he admitted to eight affairs, encouraged a lover to get an abortion and used a gun to intimidate his ex-wife during an argument.
The sworn testimony also revealed for the first time that the congressman had agreed when his ex-wife had two abortions. DesJarlais publicly opposes abortion rights.
The Tennessee Department of Health has begun an investigation into a complaint filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that DesJarlais should be disciplined for conducting an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient. The watchdog group has also filed an ethics complaint in the U.S. House.
Among the other freshman Republicans who won second terms, Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin was left with $336,203 on hand after spending $3.2 million in the cycle, including $1 million in loans repaid to herself from her 2010 bid. Chattanooga Rep. Chuck Fleischmann had about $51,000 on hand, while Rep. Steven Fincher of Halls had $1.5 million.
The Humane Society Legislative Fund has disclosed $27,475 in independent expenditures opposing Republican Frank Niceley’s campaign for the state Senate and agreed to register as a political action committee in Tennessee, an official said Monday.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said the HSLF disclosure form was received in his office Monday. He then sent an email to PAC officials advising that, as he reads the relevant laws involved, the PAC should have registered with Tennessee’s Registry of Election Finance before spending in a state legislative race.
In a prompt reply, the group promised to file the registration papers, Rawlins said, and that will conclude the matter with no further action. The failure to register seems an honest mistake that is being corrected, he said, and the PAC was obviously not trying to conceal its spending.
HSLF spokesman Dane Waters said last week that the Washington-based PAC’s attorneys thought that no registration in Tennessee was required, but that filing a disclosure report was necessary. Indeed, the report – covering the period July 25-Aug. 1 was not legally required to be filed until Oct. 10 since the spending occurred after July 23, the last deadline for disclosures before the Aug. 2 primary election.
The disclosure shows most of the money went toward direct mail pieces that attacked Niceley for legislation the group saw as supporting horse slaughter, cockfighting and “canned hunting.” The rest – $6,687 – went to pay for automated phone calls to voters criticizing Niceley on the same issues.
Niceley, who currently serves as a state representative, had estimated earler that up to $50,000 was spent by the group. He defeated three opponents to win the Republican nomination in the six-county Senate District 8 and will be unopposed in the Nov. 6 general election.
— Note: One of the anti-Niceley mailers is reproduced below.
Knoxville freelance writer and editor Pam Strickland has filed a formal sworn complaint, asking state and local officials to look into questionable campaign finance disclosure forms reported by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, reports the News Sentinel. Strickland, who sent the complaint on Wednesday via certified mail to the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office and the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said: “If there is a problem, it needs to be investigated, and we need to know what that problem is. If there’s not a problem, we need to know that, too.”
John Gill, special counsel to the Knox County district attorney general, said Thursday that he had received the statement, will review it “and then take appropriate action.”
The mayor said Strickland “has every right as a citizen” to file the report, but added: “I find it very odd that it is a newspaper writer filing a complaint and I’m being asked about it before I have even been informed about it by the Attorney General’s Office.”
Strickland writes a weekly column for the Knoxville News Sentinel, although she is not an employee with the News Sentinel or E.W. Scripps, the paper’s parent company. She filed the complaint as “a citizen of Knox County and (a) properly registered voter.”
When Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett attempted to clean up some old campaign finance reports in late June, he inadvertently recorded a $1,350 expense for fuel — twice. So reports The News Sentinel. He first noted the purchase — a credit card payment made to Pilot Travel Centers in March 2010 — on a state Senate disclosure report. He did it again June 22 — on his mayoral campaign report — after the News Sentinel questioned why the Pilot expense wasn’t initially on the mayoral report.
When asked Tuesday about the double claim, the mayor said he was in the middle of transitioning his election accounts and inadvertently recorded it on the wrong campaign report.
He said in a statement he is now reviewing “every expenditure of my campaign account” and making corrections where and when needed.
“I have and will continue to amend my campaign financial disclosures as required, and a full reconciliation of the accounts will be completed,” he said, providing little other detail.
The check to Pilot was one of two written by the mayor’s wife during the 2010 election that the mayor amended last month on campaign finance statements. The other was a $550 reimbursement payment to Dean Rice, his current chief of staff and former campaign manager.
Allison Burchett also wrote six checks that totaled more than $15,000 directly to herself. Those have not been recorded. Burchett says his wife has the receipts. She says he has them.
Expenditures for two checks written by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s wife during the 2010 election are now correctly recorded as required by state campaign finance law, reports Mike Donila. And, the mayor said Friday, he’s looking into amending more finance statements to account for other undisclosed payments from the Elect Burchett account.
“We just corrected an error. It happens,” Burchett said. “When you’re in a campaign you get hundreds of checks and you’re going 100 miles an hour.”
At issue were eight checks written by Allison Burchett between March 16, 2010, and Jan. 9, 2012. Six of them the mayor’s wife wrote to herself, and they totaled more than $15,000.
She also wrote a $550 reimbursement check to Dean Rice, the mayor’s chief of staff and former 2010 campaign manager, and a $1,354 check to Pilot Travel Centers.
On June 22, after the News Sentinel questioned the mayor and Rice about the expenses, the campaign’s political treasurer, Albert Miller Jr., filed a set of amended disclosure statements.
The new documents list the expenditures Rice claimed, as well as the expenses paid to Pilot Corp. According to the statement, Rice was reimbursed for “campaign expenses such as HQ supplies and campaign meals.”
The payment to Pilot is for fuel, according to the finance records.
“It came to my attention that the check to me had not been disclosed, so if there’s an error, I wanted to correct it,” Rice said.
The checks Allison Burchett wrote to herself, however, are still not documented.
Also still unchanged are three listed expenses she made on the disclosure statements that are larger than the actual written checks as well as a $4,250 expense for a company that said it did no work for the mayor in the campaign.
“We’re working on that,” the mayor said. “We’re doing a comprehensive review of the whole thing to get it straightened out.”
Allison Burchett, who filed for divorce in late April, said her husband told her at the time to make the changes and to not record some of the expenditures. The mayor has said that’s not true.