Tag Archives: lobbyists

Lobbyist trio set up new firm

News release from MNA Government Relations
(Nashville, TN / September 28, 2016 Three veterans of Tennessee government, Wendell Moore, Jeremy Nagoshiner and Tausha Alexander, have joined to form a new policy consulting firm, MNA Government Relations.

The new firm will focus on providing government relations and procurement services consulting to itsa clients. The combined experience of the new firm’s principals will provide clients the tools and resources necessary to successfully represent their interests to the state’s executive and legislative branches of government. 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.)
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New coalition set up to push ‘criminal justice reform’

Press release from Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice
NASHVILLE – Leaders from advocacy, business and social service groups with constituents across the state came together today to launch the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice. The nonpartisan coalition is committed to advancing criminal justice reform. Founding organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the Tennessee Association of Goodwills, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“These diverse organizations from across the political spectrum came together because we all agree that criminal justice reform is both necessary and urgent,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Our current criminal justice system is functioning like a revolving door. We as a state can and must do better to ensure public safety, fair treatment and equality in the justice system. This coalition will be a powerful advocate for smart-on-crime policies at the legislature.”

The coalition will promote reforms that enhance public safety, promote rehabilitation and re-entry, and save taxpayer dollars in order to create a just and fair criminal justice system that offers every Tennessean the opportunity to become a productive member of society. Continue reading

On the prescription painkiller lobby’s influence

(Note: The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity have produced a package of stories published this weekend on the politics of those involved in making prescription painkillers. One of them, focused on lobbying efforts and political contributions at the state level, is below and includes a substantial reference to Tennessee. ‘

The Tennessean has done a sidebar reporting that Tennessee politicians received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions over the past decade from pharmaceutical companies and other members of the Pain Care Forum, a coalition that meets monthly to discuss opioid-related issues. That report is HERE.)

By Geoff Mulvihill, Liz Essley Whyte and Ben Wieder, Associated Press and Center for Public Integrity
The makers of prescription painkillers have adopted a 50-state strategy that includes hundreds of lobbyists and millions in campaign contributions to help kill or weaken measures aimed at stemming the tide of prescription opioids, the drugs at the heart of a crisis that has cost 165,000 Americans their lives and pushed countless more to crippling addiction.

The drugmakers vow they’re combating the addiction epidemic, but The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity found that they often employ a statehouse playbook of delay and defend that includes funding advocacy groups that use the veneer of independence to fight limits on the drugs, such as OxyContin, Vicodin and fentanyl, the narcotic linked to Prince’s death.

The mother of Cameron Weiss was no match for the industry’s high-powered lobbyists when she plunged into the corridors of New Mexico’s Legislature, crusading for a measure she fervently believed would have saved her son’s life.

It was a heroin overdose that eventually killed Cameron, not long before he would have turned 19. But his slippery descent to death started a few years earlier, when a hospital sent him home with a bottle of Percocet after he broke his collarbone in wrestling practice.

Jennifer Weiss-Burke pushed for a bill limiting initial prescriptions of opioid painkillers for acute pain to seven days. The bill exempted people with chronic pain, but opponents still fought back, with lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry quietly mobilizing in increased numbers to quash the measure.

They didn’t speak up in legislative hearings. “They were going individually talking to senators and representatives one-on-one,” Weiss-Burke said.

Unknowingly, she had taken on a political powerhouse that spent more than $880 million nationwide on lobbying and campaign contributions from 2006 through 2015 — more than 200 times what those advocating for stricter policies spent and more than eight times what the formidable gun lobby recorded for similar activities during that same period.

The pharmaceutical companies and allied groups have a number of legislative interests in addition to opioids that account for a portion of their political activity, but their steady presence in state capitals means they’re poised to jump in quickly on any debate that affects them.

Collectively, the AP and the Center for Public Integrity found, the drugmakers and allied advocacy groups employed an annual average of 1,350 lobbyists in legislative hubs from 2006 through 2015, when opioids’ addictive nature came under increasing scrutiny.

“The opioid lobby has been doing everything it can to preserve the status quo of aggressive prescribing,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing and an outspoken advocate for opioid reform. “They are reaping enormous profits from aggressive prescribing.” Continue reading

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.”

TN StudentFirst: New name, same staff & game plan

News release from TennesseeCAN
NASHVILLE, TN- Today, StudentsFirst Tennessee announced the continuation of its statewide education advocacy efforts under the new name and organizational structure of the Tennessee Campaign for Achievement Now (TennesseeCAN).

As part of the transition, TennesseeCAN will now operate as an official member of the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN) network. In March 2016, StudentsFirst and 50CAN announced they would merge.

“We are excited to continue our work on behalf of Tennessee students and families,” said state Executive Director Brent Easley. “We have an exciting vision for our priorities in 2017 and we are looking forward to rolling those out in the coming weeks.  Also, we are constantly working to push our operation to improve, and by joining the 50CAN network, this merger represents a great opportunity to combine the strengths of both organizations for an improved and more effective advocacy effort.”

TennesseeCAN will function as a new and autonomous organization whose legislative agenda, policy priorities, staff and underlying mission remains unchanged.

Since 2011, the organization has overseen one of the state’s premier non-profit education policy and advocacy movements focused on broadening student access to great schools and great teachers. During those years, the team has championed many high-profile reform initiatives, including proposed Opportunity Scholarships legislation, expanded charter school authorizing practices, transparent A-F school letter grades, and many other policies to bring quality education to Tennessee families that need it most.

As part of the announcement, TennesseeCAN released its first annual Tennessee Education Snapshot.  The report provides a broad and interactive view of Tennessee’s most essential education statistics.  It includes a comprehensive collection of facts and data ranging from academic achievement measures and student demographics to teacher preparation figures and tax dollar cost distributions, all within the context of larger national comparisons.

In examining the key data points within the Tennessee Education Snapshot, Easley noted, “We have experienced extraordinary growth over the past five years that is due to the hard work of our educators, students, and innovative state policies, and there are still opportunities for our state to improve. This ‘Education Snapshot’ both outlines current data in Tennessee education and informs the work ahead to ensure our state is not only a national model for education policy, but a leader in overall performance as well.”

Note: the ‘Snapshot’ is HERE.

Koch-sponsored forum talks TN criminal justice reform

Conservatives gathered in Nashville Wednesday for wine, hors d’oeuvres and conversation over criminal justice reform, reports The Tennessean. They discussed topics ranging from curbing court fees that prevent people from obtaining driver’s licenses, thus capturing people in a cycle of repeat offenses and poverty, to providing jobs for people who are released from prison. Panelists also showed support for decriminalizing minor, non-violent offenses as a way to cut down the state’s prison population.

“It’s important that conservatives understand the reality of our criminal justice system,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of conservative thinktank the Beacon Center of Tennessee. “We want conservatives to understand what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years isn’t working.”

For some like Owen, the dollars make sense to tackle reform.

“By and large we’ve done very little in the state of Tennessee to reform our criminal justice system, and it’s cost taxpayers a significant amount of money,” he said. “It’s become the third-highest expenditure in our state budget and our crime rates have continued to go up.”

The event was hosted by the Charles Koch Institute, an outreach effort backed by one of the nation’s richest and most politically influential men.

Perhaps luckily timed because the Tennessee General Assembly’s special session brought lawmakers to Nashville the same day, those in the audience included state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and several other legislators. Also there were active local donor and businessman Lee Beaman (who is on the Beacon Center board) and Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City in Memphis, a group of lawyers and activists who advocate justice reform.

TSEA hires former Harwell aide as new lobbyist

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee State Employees Association has hired Paul Overholser as Government Affairs Director.

“I had the opportunity to work with Paul for 10 years when he worked as legislative assistant to Speaker Beth Harwell,” TSEA Executive Director Randy Stamps said. “Paul’s experience working with legislators on policy dealing with State Employees, combined with the respect he has on the Hill, will help TSEA better serve our members into the future.”

Overholser worked for Tennessee General Assembly as Speaker Beth Harwell’s Legislative Assistant from 2006-2010. More recently, Paul served as Policy and Research Analyst for the House State Government and Local Government Committees from 2010-2014.

“As a former state employee, I understand firsthand what it means to be a civil servant and the challenges that all of us face,” Paul Overholser said. “I am very excited to work for TSEA. I really appreciate the loyalty, enthusiasm, and pride I’ve witnessed just from my first week and I look forward to using my contacts and experience to help all state employees.”

Paul Overholser holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Austin Peay State University.

ECD’s Clint Brewer moves to consulting business

News release from Stones River Group
NASHVILLE, TN – Stones River Group president Mark Cate today announced the addition of veteran communications executive and former journalist Clint Brewer as the company’s newest principal. Clint will join Washington, D.C. transplant and former Podesta Group VP Alexandra Sollberger in helming the firm’s public relations shop.

“Stones River Group has experienced consistent growth over the last year and we’re bringing on new talent to offer enhanced services for our clients,” Cate said. “Clint is a terrific addition to our company, offering clients a deep understanding of media and business. His leadership skills and relationships are a tremendous asset.”

Brewer was the Assistant Commissioner for Communications and Marketing at the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD), where he helped lead Governor Bill Haslam’s economic development program. Prior to joining TNECD, Brewer was a journalist and media executive for 16 years, serving as editor of the Nashville City Paper and the Lebanon Democrat as well as government and politics editor of the Tennessean.

“I am incredibly excited to join Stones River Group,” Brewer said. “This company is made up of exceptionally talented people. I’m looking forward to putting my experience and skills to work for our clients.”

Stones River Group has expanded its communications offerings in recent months to meet growing client demand. In March, the firm brought Sollberger on board from the Podesta Group, one of the nation’s top government relations and PR firms, where she provided strategic counsel to a diverse array of clients, including education nonprofits and postsecondary institutions, Fortune500 companies, trade associations and coalitions, and financial services institutions.

Previously, Sollberger worked for several years as a communications director and senior advisor in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Committee on Small Business and in the office of former Congressman Geoff Davis (R-KY).

“Both Alex and Clint are smart, well-respected communicators with impressive backgrounds and considerable reach into the media,” Cate said. “We’re excited to add their strategic expertise to the team and look forward to ushering in the next chapter of success at our firm.”

Sunday column: On a legislator’s plea to ‘lobby me’

In a late night text message to a woman lobbyist, as recorded in a recent state attorney general’s investigative report, state Rep. Jeremy Durham wrote: “I’m bored as hell. Lobby me.”

Such a plea for lobbyist attention is surely not the most offensive of Durham doings recounted in the report on his interaction with 22 women lobbyists, legislative staffers and interns. But maybe it best reflects a subtext in the overall report that delves a bit into the culture – or maybe it’s a subculture — of Tennessee’s Legislatorland.

Says the report at another point:

“The investigation revealed that lobbyists, much like staff members and interns, depend on maintaining a good working relationship with legislators for their livelihood and future success. A lobbyist depends on favorable support from legislators to satisfy and build a client base, and many female lobbyists interviewed described the substantial financial and professional stake they have in avoiding anything that would jeopardize a good relationship with legislators. As Jane Doe #4 put it, lobbyists do not have clients without legislators.” Continue reading