Tag Archives: interests

3rd District Debate: Fleischmann vs. Wamp on ‘Snake Pit,’ Special Interests

Weston Wamp questioned U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s congressional credentials during an aggressive debate Monday, attempting to define Fleischmann as an inflexible creature of Washington in the fight for the Republican nomination in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District.
From the Chattanooga TFP account:
With the Aug. 2 primary election only two months away, Fleischmann arrived at a crucial moment of his re-election effort armed with a defense of his record and a list of shots targeting Wamp’s perceived inexperience as the 25-year-old son of the congressman’s immediate predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp.
Several times, Fleischmann described Weston Wamp’s reasoning as incorrect, inaccurate and, using a baseball analogy to describe a trio of answers, “0-for-3.”
Unbowed, Fleischmann’s young rival claimed to be the most powerful advocate on local issues like the Chickamauga lock and the most energetic person ever to run for Congress.
…”Just how much does it impact us when we’re represented in Congress by one of the most divisively partisan people there?” Wamp asked.
But Fleischmann said he’s respecting the 3rd District’s wishes.
“We have basically blocked the president,” he said of the Republican-controlled House.
By the end of the 90-minute debate, the scrutiny appeared to wear on Fleischmann, who received hoots from a host of twentysomething Wamp supporters when he said his only “special interests” are the people of the district.
That statement came after a debate moderator asked him to square his $363,000 in PAC contributions with a 2010 campaign promise that said “special interest groups in Washington will not find an open door in my congressional office.”
“If he didn’t leave his door open to special interests, he at least let the mailbox or the bank account — it’s a pretty clear violation” of the promise, Wamp said.
The exchange later put Wamp in the interesting position of slamming as “a snake pit” Washington, D.C., where his father broke a campaign term-limit promise to serve 12 years in Congress. (He served 16.) The younger Wamp also gave himself wiggle room on the PAC money question, saying he would accept it from organizations whose “principles and values are aligned with mine.”

A Lucrative Session for Lobbyists; Opinions Differ on Their Role

Special interests this year spent millions of dollars seeking to influence the Tennessee General Assembly on issues ranging from a proposed cap on personal injury lawsuit awards to letting grocery stores sell wine, reports Andy Sher.
Fights in these and other areas, including education policy and telecommunications competition, often played out not only in committee rooms and on the House and Senate floor but behind the scenes in lawmakers’ offices, legislative corridors and sometimes lavish receptions for lawmakers.
Groups also spent money in more public ways with studies, telemarketing campaigns and advertising aimed at encouraging the public to pressure legislators.
In the view of Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga: “Special interests play an outsized role in our government and especially in our legislature.”
“Obviously, what we do affects wholesale industries, but it’s difficult not to look at what goes on in the legislature and worry about the individual citizen having his proper say, also,” Berke said.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, countered that lobbyists represent Tennesseans who don’t have time to come to the legislature every day.
“It’s good for anyone to get their story in front of the legislators, especially the legislators that aren’t necessarily familiar with the issue. In that way, I think just anyone coming to see you would be helpful to their cause,” McCormick said.
Moreover, he said, “We can’t stop people from lobbying. I think the First Amendment makes it clear that people can come lobby, so we have set up a system where they have to at least report who’s paying them.”

(Note: Employers of lobbyists file reports with the Tennessee Ethics Commission every six months, giving a ‘range’ of compensation paid to lobbyists and related expenditures. Link to the search website is HERE.
For example, AT&T (still registered as Bellsouth), traditionally one of the top spenders on lobbying (with over $1 million in sessions past), reported $300,000 to $350,000 in lobbyist compensation paid for the six months ended March 31, plus $50,000-$100,000 in related expenditures and a $22,406 reception. AT&T had 15 registered lobbyists.
Most famous lobbyist of the year, doubtless, was Fred Thompson, one of seven registered for the Tennessee Association of Justice and one of 199 registered to lobby on the subject of tort reform. TAJ reported compensation paid for the six months ended March 31 of $350,000-$400,000; related expenses of $25,000-$50,000 and a $8,250 reception.)

$500,000 Worth of Wining & Dining for Legislators Reported So Far

State lawmakers were treated to more than $500,000 worth of special luncheons and private receptions this legislative session, says The Tennessean.
Special interest groups and lobbyists, ranging from the Tennessee Concrete Association to the Tennessee Bar Association, hosted 75 events, according to reports filed with the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
The most expensive tab was paid by the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, which hosted a “Bell Ringer Country Luncheon” on March 2, which came with a price tag of $23,661.20. According to an invitation filed by the Farm Bureau with the Ethics Commission, the luncheon took place at the Sheraton Hotel.
Critics say the practice of hosting such events for state lawmakers creates an uneven playing field where corporations and special interests have better access to government leaders.
“We’re always dealing with concentrated benefits and distributed costs,” said community activist and tea party leader Ben Cunningham.
“That’s the reality of government. Everybody pays for it, and in many cases the recipients of government largess are small groups, small corporations … who can justify spending huge amounts of money on attaining special favors.
“That’s the nature of the beast.”

(NOTE: The listing of events and the price tag for 2011 is HERE. It’s not complete yet because some interests — Jack Daniel’s distillery and beer wholesalers, for example — have not filed their spending reports.)