Dressed in a three-piece suit, Louie Lobbyist was sipping on a glass of Chablis, leaning against one of the stately columns in the courtyard of the War Memorial Building and listening — seemingly intently — to a legislator’s talented wife strum a harp and produce soothing sounds.
The occasion was a Republican Caucus fundraiser, which started with a reception where a curious reporter could drop by and be tolerated without paying the price of admission, to witness an event where other folks had, collectively, paid $400,000 or so for the privilege of being present. There were maybe 100 or so people milling around at the moment.
“Hey, you (expletive adjective deleted) media moron,” said Louie. “I thought you were too old to go to these rock concerts.”
“Well, yeah, it has been awhile since I infiltrated a lobbyist shakedown,” I replied. “But, hey, this one was in a public place and held early in the evening, so I thought I’d wander by and see how these things go nowadays. Is this typical? It does seem a contrast to watching you cut a rug with (former female legislator’s name withheld) to Jimmy’s Church Street Band playing ‘Soul Man.’ ”
Republican state legislators raised almost $400,000 just from those on a major donor list during a Nashville fundraiser for their fall campaigns.
The event, held at the War Memorial Auditorium adjoining the Legislative Plaza, had 10 organizations or individuals designated as “sponsors” for contributing $25,000 or more and 13 on a “host” list that required a contribution of $10,000. Assuming each listed donor gave the minimum amount, that would mean at least $380,000.
Brent Leatherwood, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, declined to give a specific amount of money collected saying the money “is still coming in” from some who made pledges. He said the goal was $400,000 and he hopes that was exceeded.
Others have suggested the take approached $525,000.
Those listed as $25,000 “sponsors” included U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan, two liquor distilleries – Brown Foreman and Jack Daniels – and two legislative lobbyist firms, Bivens and Associates and McMahan Winstead. Others were American Esoteric Laboratories, FedEx Corp., Joyce and willis Johnson, Teresa and Garry McNabb and StudentsFirst, an education reform group founded by fomer Washington, D.C., school superintendent Michelle Rhee.
Three congressmen were among those listed as $10,000 “hosts” – Reps. Diane Black, Phil Roe and Stephen Fincher.
Others in the $10,000 category were Natalie and Jim Haslam, state Comptroller Justin Wilson, the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association, Tennessee Bankers Association, Titlemax, Video Gaming Technology, Carl Hailey and three lobbyist firms.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Thursday that “it’s a whole lot easier” to raise money now that Republicans enjoy full control over the House and Senate. Asked why, he replied:
“I guess we’re just better looking, funnier and more attractive than we used to be,” he said.
Under Tennessee law, it’s illegal for a lobbyist to make a political contribution to a state legislator. But, if the lobbyist sets up a political action committee, gives money to the PAC and then the PAC gives money to the legislator, well, that’s just fine.
And lots of lobbyists do that.
Under Tennessee law, it’s illegal for a human being to give more than $1,400 to candidate for the state House. But a PAC, essentially a legal fiction created by human beings who are legislators, can give up to $7,100.
So Louie Lobbyist, who as a human being is prohibited from giving anything to Larry Legislator, can fill out the PAC creation paperwork, then Louie PAC can give Larry $7,100. The well-funded lobbyist thus has more giving power than your average citizen. Oh, and if Larry has decided to set up a PAC himself (and lots of legislators do), then Louie the individual person can give money to Larry PAC, since Larry PAC is not Larry Legislator, the person. And then Louie PAC can give more to Larry PAC on top of that.
They’re all separate, you see. And PACs have superpowers beyond those of mere mortals.
With two terms under his belt, ample funding and a voting record that’s solidly Republican and pro-life, Rep. Joshua Evans would seem like a lock to secure the GOP nomination for the 66th House District in August.
But, Chas Sisk observes, he faces a potentially stiff challenge from Lee Harrell, a veteran of the state Capitol who now works as a lobbyist.
Evans holds the advantages of a sitting incumbent. His campaign went into the primary with more than $36,000 in the bank, and he has secured the endorsement of Tennessee Right to Life, the state’s most prominent anti-abortion group.
The two do not appear to differ much on policy.
Harrell is hitting Evans hard over his travel overseas. Harrell also pledges to waive the $173 per day that state lawmakers receive for expenses and compensation — taking on a frequent complaint voiced on conservative talk radio and in tea party circles.
…Evans is not chairman of any committees. He has been a steady rank-and-file vote on Republican legislation, standing out only as the sponsor of several measures favored by pro-life groups.
…Harrell can claim experience in the state Capitol, too, despite never having been elected to office.
Starting as an intern in the Tennessee legislature in 2001, Harrell worked as an aide to state Sens. Douglas Henry, Randy McNally and Jamie Woodson before leaving in 2009. Harrell specialized in education policy, and after leaving the Capitol, joined the influential Tennessee School Boards Association as its director of government and labor relations.
….Harrell was stopped in 2010 on suspicion of drunken driving, a charge that was first reported in May by the Capitol website TNReport after it was brought up by a pair of Evans’ Republican colleagues in the legislature. Harrell pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of reckless driving and violating the state’s implied consent law.
“It was a mistake,” Harrell said. “I fully expect my opponent to bring that up.”
Evans says he did not raise the DUI charge, but he criticizes Harrell for working as a lobbyist after leaving state government.
“People don’t realize that,” Evans said, “and it seems to be an issue when they are told that.”
Meanwhile, Harrell is hitting Evans over his attendance record at the legislature. Evans missed 116 votes in 2011 and 2012, with more than one-third of them unexcused.
A Capitol Hill lobbyist looking to unseat a rank-and-file House Republican has a DUI in his history — a fact some lawmakers want to highlight although one of their party peers faces trial on the same charges.
Excerpt from Andrea Zelinski’s TNReport:
The two legislators are careful to say the run-in with the law shouldn’t disqualify Lee Harrell from being seriously considered in the race against Rep. Joshua Evans for the Robertson County House seat, but firmly add that it’s a fact voters should know.
“I think it’s probably important for voters to have that information and be able to use that in their consideration,” said Evans, a Republican from Greenbrier and small business owner.
Evans is beating back a challenge from Harrell, a lobbyist for the Tennessee School Boards Association, in the 66th District encompassing Robertson County. The August primary election race is one of 21 this year where House Republican incumbents are trying to fend off challengers.
Harrell was arrested Sept. 4, 2010, on drunken driving charges and refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test.
“It was certainly a mistake, but I learned from it. I’ve moved on. I’m a better person because of it,” Harrell told TNReport.
According to the arrest warrant, Harrell was driving 80 miles an hour in a 55 mile-per-hour zone on I-40 in Nashville on a Saturday night and was seen “meandering back and forth in his lane of travel, partly crossing into other lanes.” The report said he had watery, bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol and “lacked smooth pursuit” while performing field sobriety tests before refusing a blood-alcohol test.
His DUI charge was reduced to reckless driving. He pleaded guilty to the charge in January 2011, along with violating the implied consent law.
TNReport obtained documents about Harrell’s arrest from Rep. Vance Dennis, a Republican lawyer from Savannah who describes himself as a “good friend” of Evans, and provided the information for “personal” reasons.
A lobbyist’s email was sent under state Rep. Bob Ramsey’s name, using his legislative office computer, to urge that all state representatives vote against a bill on taxing roll-your-own cigarettes, those involved said Tuesday.
The episode Monday led Ramsey, chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee, to send a follow-up message to colleagues saying the email “was sent out from my e-mail account without my knowledge” and “in no way reflects my opinion of the matter.”
It also led House Speaker Beth Harwell to speak with Ramsey, his assistant, Angela Brown, and lobbyist Dan Haskell.
“I heard his (Haskell’s) side of the story,” Harwell said. “I talked to Rep. Ramsey and his assistant and made it clear that legislative equipment and email are for legislative staff and our members only.”
Nashville lobbyist Tony Thompson, declared a “fresh face” by a new Memphis client, has also kept Knoxville as a client with a fresh face in the mayor’s office.
The Knoxville City Council approved a new annual contract with Thompson for lobbying the Legislature at the same fee he has received for the past 11 years, $50,000.
Thompson’s contract came with the approval of Mayor Madeline Rogero. She will be the third Knoxville mayor to approve contracting with Thompson. He began under former Mayor Victor Ashe 15 years ago with a salary of $36,000 per year and served at the $50,000 rate under former Mayor Bill Haslam, now governor.
News release from Tennessee Regulatory Authority:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) is pleased to announce that Tim Schwarz has joined agency. Tim will be serving as Chief of Communications and External Affairs and his primary focus will be to lead our
legislative efforts as Director of Legislative Affairs.
“We are thrilled to welcome a government relations professional with the background and expertise that Mr. Schwarz brings to our organization,” said TRA Chairman, Kenneth C. Hill. “Tim’s knowledge of state government and how it works makes him a tremendous asset as we continue in the role of overseeing the state’s investor-owned utility service
Tim has 15 years of government affairs experience in Tennessee having worked in the legislative branch as a contract lobbyist, and most recently in the executive branch under the administrations of Governor Bredesen and Governor Haslam.
While with the Bredesen Administration, Tim was instrumental in advancing and protecting the governor’s interests and priorities regarding conservation, health care and the state budget. Last legislation session, Tim served as Director of Legislative Affairs for the Tennessee Department of Health.
“I’m excited and honored that Chairman Hill has given me this opportunity to continue my public service at the TRA.Chairman Hill has terrific team in place and I am eager to get to work with the upcoming legislative session,” said Schwarz.
An active member in the Nashville community, Tim currently serves as Co-Chair of Southern Word, Inc., a nonprofit that promotes cultural literacy through poetry for at risk youth in Nashville and surrounding communities. He is also a member of The Tennessee Nature Conservancy’s young professionals group, Generation Conservation (Gen-C) Steering Committee and is actively involved at St. Henry’s Church where two of his children attend school.
Tim is a native of Portland, Oregon and a graduate of the University of Puget Sound where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. He also received his Juris Doctor degree from the Nashville School of Law.
The mission of the TRA is to promote the public interest by balancing the interests of utility consumers and providers. For more information on the TRA, visit online at www.tn.gov/tra.
The Memphis-Shelby County unified school system has hired Nashville-based lobbyist Tony Thompson to monitor legislative activity during the upcoming session of the General Assembly, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The Dec. 15 contract with Thompson for $75,000 was done administratively and did not come before the 23-member unified board for consideration. The one-year agreement was signed by Thomas, MCS Supt. Kriner Cash and SCS Supt. John Aitken. That was done per the Shelby County Schools policy, where such matters can be handled administratively.
The former Memphis City Schools required such arrangements, if over $50,000, to come to the school board for review. The handling of such contracts has been a point of discussion during the merger of the two systems.
Billy Orgel, chairman of the unified board, confirmed the hiring of Thompson, son of actor and former senator Fred Thompson.
“He will be our eyes and ears on the ground in Nashville,” Orgel said. “Quite frankly, I think it is a great thing because we need to engage our legislators — not just from Shelby County, but from across the state — and let them know about the good things going on over here in Shelby County. “I think a fresh face — Tony Thompson — will be very helpful to us.”
Tennessee judges are ready to fight back against legislative efforts to revamp the Court of the Judiciary, evidenced this week when members of the Trial Judges’ Association voted to hire a lobbyist to represent them in the debate.
Excerpt from Mike Morrow’s TNReport::
The trial judges voted to increase their dues with a one-time assessment of $200 each in order to help get their message out to legislators. The vote came during a meeting of the trial judges at the Tennessee Judicial Conference in Franklin.
….Circuit Court Judge Randy Kennedy of Nashville said judges are being unfairly targeted.
“I never dreamed — maybe I’m naive — I never dreamed that in carrying out our duties and responsibilities impartially and fairly that we would become a target of a misinformed, malevolent, agenda-driven bunch of folks. But we are,” Kennedy said in the meeting.
“We are right in the crosshairs.”
There was debate about raising funds to hire someone to lobby for the judges. At first, the talk was of voluntarily contributing to funds for the purpose, but ultimately the group voted to make the one-time assessment on their dues. Advocates for the move made the case that the judges need a voice at the Capitol given what they’re up against with legislative efforts.
“The legislature is not the enemy,” Kennedy said. “The problem is we have been unable in the last few years to convince them we really do have the same direction. The road to serve the public should be a joint effort. Somehow, we need some help beyond our limited abilities as judges to help legislators understand we are not trying to do their job, and we don’t need them to do ours.”