Tag Archives: lobbying

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: ‘Revolving door’ from legislating to lobbying still works

If there’s truth in the saying that three occurrences make a trend, there’s a trend in the General Assembly of lawmakers vacating their seats to take higher-paying positions tied to government and politics. In the past, legislators have tended to finish out their terms before making such a move.

The third legislator to give up his seat in the past two years is state Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, who announced last week he will resign in December to become executive director of the County Mayors Association of Tennessee. Harrison chairs what is possibly the most powerful panel in the Legislature — the House Finance Subcommittee, which decides the fate of every bill that involves state taxes or spending.

The first legislator to give up a seat was Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, who exited in January 2014 to become executive director of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association. In between, there was state Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, who quit in April of this year to become chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party.

A common theme: A nice pay raise. All three will be making six-figure base salaries in the new positions, compared to the base salary of just over $20,000 for a state legislator, though underpaid service as a legislator was doubtless the key resume entry that qualified them for their new jobs.
Continue reading

Rep. Brooks a special target in AFP radio ad campaign against Insure Tennessee

A new 60-second radio ad from the Tennessee chapter of the conservative Americans for Prosperity attacks state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, for supporting Gov. Bill Haslam’s ‘Insure Tennessee’ proposal, reports the Chattanooga TFP. It accuses the House assistant state majority leader of “betraying” a promise to oppose “Obamacare.”

The ad cites Brooks’ support last year of the Stop Obamacare Act and says it was aimed at preventing “Obamacare from destroying Tennessee’s budget.

“But now,” the ad says, “Brooks is urging fellow legislators to vote for Obamacare. Kevin Brooks promised to fight against Obamacare. Now he’s fighting for it. Why is Kevin Brooks betraying us?”

AFP-Tennessee Executive Director Andrew Ogles said in an interview Thursday the group is running the ad because Brooks “is out there working to get votes so we just feel his constituents should know about it.”

Brooks said he’s surprised by the attack, which is airing in his home town.

“I really haven’t had enough time” to decide whether he’s backing fellow Republican Haslam’s proposal, Brooks said. “That’s what we’re setting aside the special session to actually have these discussions, which is why I’m surprised that anyone would take a stance or make a statement in the press about my decision which has yet to even be announced.”

Brooks said what he has stated are “four very simple things. The current plan is Tennessee unique. It is Tennessee specific. It has no Tennessee tax dollars and the Tennessee Hospital Association has agreed to pay for any additional costs. And I guess that’s what they’re saying I’m trying to get people to vote for it.”

…AFP-Tennessee is also airing a more general radio ad attacking Haslam’s plan in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis media markets as well as select other markets, Ogles said.

That ad doesn’t mention anyone by name. It says among other things that “Obamacare has been a disaster. Expanding Obamacare in Tennessee will be the same.”

The spot singling out Brooks, narrated by former conservative talk radio host Steve Gill, is the only one mentioning any legislator by name, Ogles said.

Supporters, foes of Insure Tennessee launch advertising campaigns

As Gov. Bill Haslam is in West Tennessee today promoting his Insure Tennessee plan, a high-stakes public battle is getting underway between independent groups both supporting and opposing the modified Medicaid expansion plan, reports Andy Sher.

Even before the governor sets foot in Jackson, there were these developments Tuesday:

* The Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which receives funding from the billionaire conservative Koch brothers, says it plans to air radio ads and send direct mail to voters in an effort to scuttle Haslam’s proposal.

* Beating them to the punch, the Coalition for a Healthy Tennessee, which backs the governor’s plan, launched its own blitz of radio ads and direct mail to generate support. Coalition members include a number of chambers of commerce, the Tennessee Hospital Association and dozens of other groups.

* The board of the Tennessee Medical Association, the state’s largest organization of physicians, announced its full support of Insure Tennessee. TMA President Dr. Doug Springer said it supports the group’s goal to “help make accessible, affordable medical care a reality for Tennessee patients.”

* A Florida-based conservative group calling itself the Foundation for Government Accountability released what it says was a poll of 500 voters in which it claims nearly 80 percent were less likely to support “Medicaid expansion” after being told it is funded by “$716 billion in cuts to Medicare.”

Dr. John Geer of Vanderbilt University questioned the Foundation for Government Accountability poll, noting “a majority of Tennesseans have consistently endorsed Medicaid expansion — even Republicans who make less than the median income in the state.”

Fifty-six percent of those asked by Vanderbilt’s November poll said they strongly or somewhat support expanding Medicaid to provide medical care for people living on low incomes.

… Andrew Ogles, president of Americans for Prosperity Tennessee, confirmed the group goes up with radio ads today and plans to send mailers out next week.

“We’re opposed to Insure Tennessee,” Ogles said. “It’s simply Obamacare with a pretty wrapper.”

Many in TN congressionial delegation staff making trips through Washington’s revolving door

Former Tennessee members of Congress and their staff are big participants in the “revolving door” between working for taxpayers and working for special interests as lobbyists, reports The Tennessean.

In all, 73 employees of past and current Tennessee members of Congress were registered lobbyists in the first quarter of 2014, according to research done for the Tennessean Washington Bureau by the Center for Responsive Politics.

At least 50 more former delegation staffers have registered as lobbyists at one time or another in recent decades. And at least 10 former Tennessee lawmakers have taken up lobbying as a follow-on career themselves.

…Former Tennessee delegation staff have landed many high-profile lobbying jobs. Examples of staffers for Tennessee lawmakers moving to high-profile lobbying jobs are commonplace.

One member of Sen. Lamar Alexander’s staff has gone on to become “senior federal relations advocate” for Wal-Mart. Others lobby for organizations like the Business Roundtable and the United Nations Foundation.

One of Sen. Bob Corker’s former staffers, Courtney Geduldig, has gone to lobby for the Financial Services Forum, which represents Wall Street firms, and now works for Standard & Poor’s, the financial rating agency.
Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, has three former employees in the lobbying ranks, including Cicely Simpson, who was his legislative director. In July 2012, she became vice president for government affairs at Dunkin’ Brands Group, the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins.

In announcing her appointment, the company made no bones about the value it placed on her experience. “Leveraging more than 10 years of leadership experience in legislative affairs and public policy,” said a news release from the firm, “Ms. Simpson will … continue to build and maintain Dunkin’ Brands’ relationships with members of Congress, congressional staff, regulatory agencies, state and local elected officials, and trade associations.”

…Meanwhile, lobbyists sometimes want to go back to work as congressional staff. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, hired her chief of staff, Michael Platt, from the Recording Industry Association of America. Jessica Carter, the top aide to Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump, came from the National Industries for the Blind.
Why would lobbyists want to come back to Capitol Hill, where the pay is less?

“If you are a lobbyist, it doesn’t hurt to refresh your contacts (in Congress),” Drutman said. Others come back, he said, because they “drink in” politics and government.

Sunday column: Louie Lobbyist’s Privatization Plan

Louie Lobbyist came by the cubicle the other day and, after making a couple of insulting remarks about the clutter, asked if we could speak privately for a moment. Sure, I said, and we walked across the hall to an empty legislative committee room.
“What’s the governor paying Tom Ingram?” he asked as we settled into the staff seats in the center of the room.
An undisclosed sum, I replied. How should I know? Tom was paid out of the governor’s own pocket until July 1, when he went on campaign payroll. That will be reported next Jan. 31 or so. But the governor tells us media types none-ya (none of your business) when his own money is involved.
“Yeah,” Louie said, “but you looked at those campaign reports back in 2010. So what was he paid then? I figure Haslam would pay about the same thing now as he did then.”
Well, not necessarily. The governor has explained that he speaks with Tom about governmental matters mostly — “organizational” was one of his words — and political stuff comes up only on the periphery, and so it would be very difficult for him to parse that out and report it as a political expenditure.

Robin Smith to Work With a Democrat!

In a sign that the apocalypse could occur on schedule this December, the Chattanooga TFP says, Republican Robin Smith and Democrat Albert Waterhouse have together formed a new consulting agency, SmithWaterhouse Strategies.
Smith, a Republican strategist (and former state Republican chairman) who mounted an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2010, will maintain her focus on project management, while Waterhouse — a staunch Democrat and well-known political consultant — will continue his work in public relations and crisis management.
The difference is that now, they’ll be working toward the same goals.
“Regardless of how we feel personally, you cannot get things done without bringing all options to the table,” Waterhouse said.
Smith agreed with her political opponent.
“Congress should take heart if two partisan nemeses in Chattanooga can come together,” she said Tuesday.

Cooper Signs No Lobbying Pledge

News release from U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s office:
NASHVILLE – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) has become the first elected official this election cycle to sign a pledge promising not to lobby once he leaves Congress.
“The power of money is overwhelming in Washington. I’ve said for years that Congress has become a farm league for K Street. Serving the public used to be considered the highest calling; now, many see it as a stepping stone to lucrative lobbying careers,” said Rep. Cooper. “I’m proud to be the first elected official this cycle to pledge not to lobby after I leave Congress, and I hope others will join me.”
The pledge is sponsored by Rootstrikers, a national network of activists fighting the corrupting influence of money in politics, founded by Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig.
“A committed reformer of Congress, we could imagine no better member to be the first to take the pledge” than Rep. Cooper, said Lessig in a Huffington Post op-ed.
Pledge signers promise that if they are elected, they will not profit from lobbying for 10 years after serving in Congress. Visit www.rootstrikers.org/the_no_lobbying_pledge for more information.

Further, from The Tennessean:
Lessig’s advocacy group, Rootstrikers, says members of Congress who are paid $174,000 a year get an average raise of 1,452 percent if they become a Washington lobbyist.
The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization, lists more than 300 former members of Congress registered as lobbyists. The issue is often referred to as the “Revolving Door.”

New Lobbying Push Underway in Judicial Selection Squabble

A conservative Washington-based lobby group, whose policy director once clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is jumping with both feet into one of the hottest political games going in the Tennessee General Assembly.
More from Andy Sher’s report:
The group is trying to influence state lawmakers when it comes to how state Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges are selected.
State Ethics Commission records show the Judicial Crisis Network and its chief counsel and policy director, Carrie Severino, have hired four lobbyists to push a proposed state constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown.
The group recently retained Estie Harris, Anne Carr and Meagan Frazier of the Smith, Carr & Harris lobbying group, as well as Doug Fisher, of Chattanooga, who recently affiliated with the lobby firm.
Kelsey’s proposal would let voters do away with the state’s current merit-selection plan in 2014 and replace it with governor nominating appellate judges, who then are confirmed or rejected by the Senate.
…Legislative aides say the Judicial Crisis Network has been trying to put pressure on lawmakers to support the Kelsey plan through phone banking of Tennesseans and switching would-be supporters of it directly to lawmakers’ offices.
While a special Supreme Court upheld the merit-selection and retention vote plan, conservatives argue it is unconstitutional. The Tennessee Bar Association supports the current plan, saying direct elections could lead to appellate judges from the far right or far left, depending on what money flows in to the various campaigns
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StudentsFirst Lobbying Trifecta: PAC Money, Polling and Now TV Ads

Full-court presses are fairly common in Washington lobbying, observes Andy Sher, but the combination of polling and campaign contributions combined with paid TV ads is still somewhat rare in Tennessee. Until now.
After making substantial campaign contributions to state lawmakers and commissioning a poll to show support for its issues, the education reform group StudentsFirst now is running television ads urging viewers to contact state lawmakers to support three bills the organization backs in the Legislature.
“Last year our legislators took courageous steps to rebuild our schools with great teachers in every classroom,” says the 30-second spot, which employs colored building blocks to begin constructing a school. “Let’s keep building. To make it easier to hire math, science and business professionals who want to teach, stop forced placement and put the right teachers in the right schools.
“Empower parents,” the narrator continues. “Give them a trigger to force school boards to take aggressive action to fix broken schools. Call your legislator. Tell them to keep putting students first. Support comprehensive education reform.”
The measures include an alternative certification bill expanding schools’ ability to hire professionals with expertise in math, science and other areas, including college professors, who don’t have teacher certification.
Another bill requires that both a principal and the teacher must consent before a teacher is placed in a vacant position in a school. The third supports Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal and would make it easier for the state’s new Achievement School District to turn around failing schools.
The ad lists legislative numbers of specific members of the House and Senate Education committees, where the bills are scheduled to be heard next week.
StudentsFirst says its spending on the ads is in the “six figures.”