Tag Archives: ethics

Spivey criticizes Harwell; Butt defends Spivey

State Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, has aimed fresh round of criticism at House Speaker Beth Harwell, who had declared him “irresponsible” for publicizing a complaint against House Clerk Joe McCord earlier in the week.

He says the speaker has adopted a “kill the messenger” stance and suggests Harwell was involved in attention paid to a fishing trip he and other legislators made to the Gulf coast with a school voucher advocate.

(Note: The letter to media is HERE, as provided by Nashville Post.)

Harwell had said earlier (post HERE) that Spivey had been “a longtime defender” of ousted Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, and linked that to the complaint that McCord used abusive language toward a legislative staffer and made an offensive gesture toward the woman’s 2-year-old granddaughter.

Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration, said the matter in question was “fully investigated” but declined to provide specifics about the incident.

Further from The Tennessean:

Spivey was not the only lawmaker to push back against Harwell on Thursday. Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, issued a statement in which she defended Spivey.

“Representative Spivey has served his district with honesty and integrity and to impugn his character or suggest that the allegations made are a ‘joke’ even before any further investigation, may be politically expedient, however, it is very unprofessional,” said Butt, who is running to be the next House Majority Leader.

Former lobbyist paid for trip to Carolina by Harwell, others

A prominent voucher advocate who previously registered as a Tennessee lobbyist paid for a private plane in November 2015 to take House Speaker Beth Harwell, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and others on trips to visit North Carolina private schools, reports The Tennessean.

Dean, a Nashville Democrat, and Kara Owen, spokeswoman for Harwell, a Nashville Republican, confirmed the two leaders went on the trip.

Lee Barfield, a well-known local attorney, former lobbyist and voucher advocate, said he organized the trip and paid for the twin-engine propeller plane the group used. Barfield also said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and others were on the trip.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Steve McDaniel said he went on a different trip with Barfield in September 2015 to the same school in North Carolina. Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, and then-Rep. Mike Harrison said they also went on that trip. Continue reading

Harwell: Rep. Spivey ‘irresponsible’ in complaint about McCord

Here’s a statement House Speaker Beth Harwell emailed to media today in response to a complaint filed against House Clerk Joe McCord by Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg:

“It is no secret that Representative Spivey is a long-time defender of Jeremy Durham’s and is upset about his expulsion at the special session–which Rep. Spivey failed to attend. Rep. Spivey did not want the Attorney General’s report on Durham released to the public and would not sign off on the report. Just as Durham lashed out last week at those who expelled him, his supporters–including Rep. Spivey–are doing the same this week.

“It is irresponsible for Rep. Spivey to involve himself in something without verifying the facts and in harassing our employees by releasing an inaccurate compilation of events. It is disrespectful for him to attempt to play political football with our state employees and their jobs, all because he personally disagreed with Jeremy Durham’s expulsion.

“I take all allegations of harassment seriously. Personnel issues are always handled by Legislative Administration in a professional manner, and they seek to reach a satisfactory conclusion for all parties. Our legislative staff does an outstanding job for every one of our members, and I sincerely appreciate the work they do.”

Note: Previous post HERE.

House clerk accused of abusive behavior

A Republican lawmaker is calling for an investigation into allegations that House Clerk Joe McCord made abusive comments to a woman staffer and raised his middle finger at her 2-year-old granddaughter when she visited House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office.

Further from The Tennessean:

In a letter emailed to The Tennessean late Tuesday night, Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, called for an immediate investigation into what a staffer described as mental and emotional abuses perpetrated by House Clerk Joe McCord against a Legislative Plaza employee over “an extended period of time.”

When reached Wednesday morning, McCord said he wanted to talk to Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration, before speaking with The Tennessean. Ridley and Harwell are also accused of wrongdoing in the report.

The allegation from a fellow Republican comes as Harwell and House leadership continues to stave off criticism for their handling of the allegations of harassment by now-expelled lawmaker Jeremy Durham.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, said he hadn’t reviewed Spivey’s report as of early Wednesday morning. After The Tennessean described the allegations in the report, Casada said they surprised him.

“I’ve known Joe McCord for 16 years, and I’ve never seen that behavior exhibited in a malicious way, in a way that was meant to be demeaning. That’s just not the Joe McCord I know,” Casada said.

” A lot of people will kid in a way that, it’s just a manner of joking. It’s not actually the emotion of anger, it’s just the way of kidding.” Continue reading

Haslam hosts private fundraiser for Rubio at executive residence

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam hosted a private fundraiser for Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign for reelection at the state’s executive residence Monday, reports The Tennessean.

The event, which Rubio attended, was co-hosted by Tennessee’s Republican U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. Corker was present for the fundraiser, but Alexander had to return to Washington D.C. from East Tennessee on Monday and was not in attendance, said an aide for the senator.

Haslam and Alexander endorsed Rubio’s Republican presidential primary bid days ahead of Tennessee’s March primary, just as Donald Trump had started to solidify himself as the GOP frontrunner. Their help fell short, however, as Rubio won only one of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Trump won the state in a landslide.

Rubio, after losing his presidential bid, opted to run for reelection and is now looking to stave off Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy, a two-term Florida congressman.

The Rubio fundraiser marks the second campaign fundraiser that Haslam has held in recent months at the governor’s mansion, which is located in Nashville’s Oak Hill neighborhood.

Haslam in July hosted a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, ahead of her primary election against challenger Joe Carr.

Tennessee state Democrats criticized the governor for holding that event, arguing that the taxpayer-funded governor’s home is not a place where campaign events should be held.

More TN partisan sniping over misbehavior

The Tennessee Republican Party has cited the theft charges filed against Hamblen County’s Democratic Party chairman in a news release that declares “misbehavior by Democratic officials has become a theme in 2016.”

The Tennessee Democratic Party has cited domestic violence charges filed against Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, already facing trial on federal corruption charges, as an another example that “Tennessee Republican corruption goes all the way to the core.”

The Morristown Citizen-Tribune reported last week that Timothy Wayne Woodard of Talbott, Hamblen County Democratic chairman and a member of the county election commission, has been indicted by a grand jury on nine misdemeanor counts of theft and illegal removal of documents from the Circuit Court office where he once worked.

The newspaper quoted an investigator as saying there were actually 57 files missing from the court office and all were recovered — 55 from the lawyer’s office where Woodard now works and two from his brief cases. 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

Durham facing another investigation

Former state Rep. Jeremy Durham is being investigated by the board charged with disciplining attorneys, according to The Tennessean.

A source with information of the investigation confirmed the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility is looking into possible “trust account violations,” or the possibility Durham misused money given to him by clients.

Durham is also being investigated by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, which authorized issuing subpoenas for Durham’s tax returns. Tom Lawless, chairman of the registry’s board, referenced a possible additional investigation during a recent board meeting.

However, Lawless said his organization, which investigates campaign finance issues, had no current plans to explore questions of how Durham used his attorney trust accounts as that typically falls under the purview of the Board of Professional Responsibility.

Durham’s attorney, Peter Strianse, did not respond to a request for comment.

Sandy Garrett, chief disciplinary counsel for the Board of Professional Responsibility, did not confirm or deny the existence of any investigation. She said the board does not make investigations public until formal discipline or disciplinary charges have been filed.

The specific nature of the Board of Professional Responsibility’s investigation is unclear, but it appears to relate to Durham’s use of his attorney trust account. A University of Memphis law school graduate, Durham operated a title company until he abruptly shuttered it in August.

Harwell, Haslam back new rules on investing campaign funds

House Speaker Beth Harwell says she’s having legislation drafted to put some rules in place for legislators investing campaign funds in private companies, reports The Tennessean. Gov. Bill Haslam says he’d support additional disclosure of investments.

This comes as the Registry of Election Finance is investigating former state Rep. Jeremy Durham’s investment of campaign money in a company owned by Andy Miller, a well-known GOP donor who’s given money to Durham in the past.

“The governor believes it is good policy to disclose campaign investments just like personal disclosures made annually to the Tennessee Ethics Commission,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals. The personal disclosures require public officials to report any investments worth $10,000 or more.

Harwell, R-Nashville, state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Marvylle, and Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said separately there should be more transparency and regulations when Tennessee public officials invest their campaign funds.

“I do not personally believe campaign contributions should be invested in private companies. I have directed our legal staff to research these issues and work with the Registry of Election Finance to identify the best remedy, so that legislation can be introduced to address it,” Harwell said in an email Monday.

“I believe in and support full disclosure and transparency in our campaign finance reports, and will always support legislation to that end. We should always strive to keep up to date on best practices, and I will be supportive of legislation seeking to address increased transparency or regulations on gift-giving or investments.”

…Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, agreed there should be more transparency but didn’t go as far as to suggest legislation.
“I think it is entirely appropriate that we require full disclosure of a campaign’s investments and interests, just as we do for personal interests and investments,” the retiring lawmaker said.

“While investments in campaign accounts should be permissible, they should be limited to investments that are public and available to all — publicly-traded stocks, mutual funds, certificates of deposit, etc. — to eliminate even the appearance of undue influence.”

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.”