Tag Archives: registry

State PAC numbers down in 2015, contributions steady

In its 2015 annual report released last week, the state Registry of Election Finance reports $3.85 million in political action committee donations were made during the year — virtually the same as in 2013, the last nonelection year.

That compares to $6.8 million in PAC donations to candidates during the 2014 election year, a figure that was down from the state record of $8.2 million in 2012. All figures cover only donations directly to candidates, excluding those that went from one PAC to another, such as an industry PAC donating to a legislative leader’s PAC.

In 2014, the Registry reported a record $3.25 million in PAC “independent expenditures” in addition to the $8.2 million in candidate contributions — typically advertising supporting or opposing a legislative candidate without a direct donation to a campaign. No such expenditures appear in the report for 2015, a non-election year.

The 2015 report also shows that the number of registered PACs dropped to 620, reversing an overall trend toward creation of more PACs in almost all recent years. In 2015, 73 PACs were closed while only 37 new PACs opened accounts with the Registry, the report says, though adding a cautionary note.

“With 2016 being an election year, we expect to see more new PACs registered. The trend of more overall PACs being registered and large number of PACs closing and opening will continue to increase the demands on the Registry each year,” the report says. “The Registry will need to continue to become more efficient in order to meet its mandated duties.”
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Bill bans political donations from ‘Series LLCs’

A bill to prohibit Tennessee campaign contributions from Series Limited Liability Companies has won initial committee approval under sponsorship of Rep. Matthew Hill, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Hill, R-Jonesborough, described a Series LLC as kind of like a “baby LLC” that could be used for laundering illegal campaign contributions.

“If someone wanted to get a hundred checks from a hundred Series LLCs of $1,500 each, they can currently do that in the state of Tennessee,” Hill told the committee. “That is obviously against the spirit of what is intended when it comes to allowing LLCs to contribute to political campaigns.”

…Hill had no information on how much campaign funds are coming from Series LLCs.

“But if there is any funneling activity going on, it will immediately end if this bill becomes law,” Hill added.

Drew Rawlins, the bureau’s executive director, testified the bureau had no position on Hill’s bill (HB2187).

“I think the concern is that when PACs (political action committees) give you contributions, you can go back and look at that PAC and see where the funds came from if you wish to do that,” Rawlins told lawmakers. “With LLCs, you don’t know, the public doesn’t know where the funds came from to fund those contributions and I think that’s the purpose of Representative Hill’s bill.”

Rawlins noted the news media and public would probably be the bill’s enforcers.

“I don’t envision us, to be honest, unless it’s the will of the legislature, to look over every LLC contribution on every report and try to determine whether it’s a Series LLC,” Rawlins explained. “We don’t have a lot of LLC contributions but there’s enough out there that it would take a good bit of time to go through every report and look at every LLC contribution … (but) we do not know where the LLC funds come from.”

In Tennessee, individuals and LLCs can contribute up to $1,500, while PACs can give up to $7,500 to legislative candidates per election.

Federal court lawsuit filed against TN Registry of Election Finance over $5,000 fine

A group of Williamson County parents has filed a federal court lawsuit challenging a $5,000 civil penalty imposed by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, reports WPLN.

The Registry voted in May to impose the penalty against the group, known as Williamson Strong, for failing to register as a political action committee and file disclosures accordingly. (Note: Previous post HERE.)

By the Registry’s logic, a PAC could be any group of people sharing their political point of view, says Williamson Strong’s lawyer, Gerard Stranch.

“That means a husband and wife, buy a bumper sticker to put on their car, they got to spend a hundred bucks and register as a PAC.”

The fine grew out of a complaint from school board member Susan Curlee. She alleges Williamson Strong campaigned for her opponents before last August’s vote.

But Williamson Strong responds it never raised money and never endorsed candidates. Members maintain they simply set up an online forum to discuss schools and encouraged parents to vote.

Williamson Strong says the fine violates its members’ First Amendment rights to a free press, free assembly and free speech.

The group also says Registry officials didn’t follow state law in taking the complaint. According to the suit, the Williamson County district attorney general’s office should have investigated the complaint first and then referred it to the Registry.

Instead, the Registry took Curlee’s complaint directly.

The suit was filed this week in the U.S. District Court for Middle Tennessee. Stranch says the federal court has jurisdiction over free-speech complaints.

Williamson Strong also has filed an appeal with the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, the state organization that oversees the Registry. If that appeal fails, the group could take it up in state courts.

Registry dismisses complaint against Yes on 2 committee

The state Registry of Election Finance has dismissed a complaint contending the Yes on 2 committee wrongfully dodged campaign finance disclosure laws in funding for last year’s successful effort toward passage of a state constitutional amendment on judicial selection.

The complaint was filed by John Avery Emison, who led the opposing No on 2 campaign committee. Yes on 2 got most of its campaign funding, more than $1.2 million, from the Tennessee Business Partnership, a nonprofit group set up last year — with the same business address and attorney — as Yes on 2.

As a 501(c)4 organization, the partnership does not have disclose its donors. Yes on 2, on its disclosure, simply listed the money as coming from the partnership.

“I don’t like it either,” registry board member Patricia Heim told Emison during the hearing, saying she would prefer the public know more about where money comes from. But under current laws and court rulings, she said the procedure is “perfectly legal” and there’s nothing the registry can do about the situation.

Brant Phillips, a Nashville attorney representing Yes on 2 and the Business Partnership, responded the two groups were legally set up as separate entities and functioned as such in full compliance with all relevant laws.

To counter an Emison contention that the partnership was set up merely as a “conduit” for providing money to Yes on 2, Phillips said in a document filed with the registry that the $1.2 million was only about half the group’s 2014 budget. Other spending included $250,000 to Tennesseans for Student Success and $222,400 to Businesses for Tennessee Prosperity, both “actively engaged in education reform,” he said.

The vote to dismiss the complaint was unanimous.

Emison said afterwards he was disappointed in the decision that means the “governors’ committee” — Yes on 2 was co-chaired by Gov. Bill Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen — can keep its funding secret from the public.

“There’s not a politician drawing a breath who doesn’t know where a million dollars for his campaign comes from… The insiders know where it came from. But the public doesn’t know,” he said.

Registry votes to hold hearing on ‘dark money’ complaint against Amendment 2 campaign

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance board voted Wednesday to look into a “dark money” complaint against the committee that campaigned for passage of last year’s state constitutional amendment on judicial selection, reports Richard Locker.

The state board voted unanimously to issue a “show cause” order to Vote Yes on 2, in response to a complaint filed by John Avery Emison of Alamo charging that Vote Yes failed to fully disclose its contributors. Emison led the opposition campaign against the judicial amendment.

A show cause order essentially asks agents for the political action committee to answer questions. The numbers of cases involving “dark money” — campaign cash whose contributors are not publicly disclosed — are increasing as money floods into candidate and issue campaigns across the nation.

…Emison’s complaint included copies of incorporation papers filed by Vote Yes on 2 LLC with the secretary of state on March 13, 2014, and by Tennessee Business Partnership, a nonprofit corporation, on Jan. 7, 2014. Both documents listed the same principal address, the Nashville office of attorney Todd Ervin, who was listed as the registered agent for Vote Yes and Tennessee Business Partnership.

Vote Yes’s campaign financial disclosure listed $1,225,000 and $14,772 in “in-kind” donations from Business Partnership, about 74 percent of the money raised by Vote Yes. The source of the money given to the Business Partnership has never been disclosed.

…“So what we have is same lawyer, same office, very proximate in time and an LLC that has received three quarters of its funding from the corporation. I’d vote to issue a show cause,” said Registry board member Justin Pitt of Franklin. “If this corporation pre-existed this PAC by a year, I’d feel very differently.”

Board member Patricia Heim of Nashville said the Registry is “going to see more and more of this … a corporation formed for the purpose of sheltering the donors to undertake political activity.”

“I’m pleased that the Registry is going to move forward and look into this,” Emison said. “We need to know where that money came from.

“As one of the members of the Registry pointed out, it looks like the not-for-profit corporation was chartered simply as a dodge because whomever could give donations to that startup not-for-profit could have just as easily given it to the committee. It’s just that the source of that $1.2 million would have to be disclosed.”

Note: Previous post, including a Tennessee Business Partnership spokesman contending the complaint is “frivilous,’ is HERE.

Senate Republicans name Tom Lawless to Registry board

Former Davidson County Republican Chairman Thomas W. Lawless has been appointed to the Registry of Election Finance board to succeed Darlene McNeece of Loudon, the longest-serving member of the panel that oversees enforcement of state campaign finance laws.

The seat is one filled by the Senate Republican Caucus. In a brief appearance at a recent caucus meeting, Lawless told senators he intends to be sure that “our side” is treated fairly in campaign finance enforcement and his nomination to the post was approved unanimously.

McNeece has served on the Registry board since July 2002. Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, hailed her “exemplary service” on the panel at the caucus meeting.
The Registry has six members — three Democrats and three Republicans — with four votes required to impose a penalty on candidates for violation of campaign finance laws.

Lawless, an attorney, previously served as chairman of the Judicial Nominating Commission, which nominates candidates for the governor to appoint as judges. That panel no longer exists, but Lawless was also named to a new commission set up by Gov. Bill Haslam to replace it and perform the same function.

Note: A Senate resolution on the Lawless appointment is HERE.

Registry dismisses pancake breakfast complaint against Tracy

The board that enforces state campaign finance laws has dismissed a complaint lodged over a pancake breakfast hosted by state Sen. Jim Tracy 11 days before he launched his bid for Congress, reports The Tennessean.

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance voted Wednesday to throw out a request that it investigate whether Tracy illegally used money from his state campaign to hold an event at a hotel in Murfreesboro on Dec. 22, 2012. The Shelbyville Republican announced Jan. 2, 2013, that he would try to unseat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg.

The complaint, filed in November by Shelbyville resident James R. Moore, suggested that Tracy may have broken state law by using money donated to his state campaign for a federal race. Moore also filed a similar complaint with federal officials.

State filings show Tracy spent more than $40,000 on the breakfast at the Doubletree Hotel in Murfreesboro. The breakfast came at a time when Tracy was believed to be weighing a run for Congress. It was billed as an opportunity for constituents to meet Tracy and make donations to Toys for Tots.

Tracy and an adviser to his campaign has said the guest list was limited to residents of his state Senate district.

Registry complaint questions Tracy fundraising breakfast

Shelbyville resident James R. Moore contends in a complaint filed with Registry of Election Finance that state Sen. Jim Tracy may have broken campaign laws by holding a pancake breakfast in Murfreesboro shortly before he launched his bid for Congress nearly a year ago, reports The Tennessean.

The complaint was filed with the registry Nov. 27 and will be taken up at a meeting in January.

..Both complaints deal with a breakfast held at the Doubletree Hotel in Murfreesboro on Dec. 22, 2012, 10 days before Tracy announced he would challenge U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, in next year’s Republican primary. State filings show that Jim Tracy for State Senate spent more than $40,000 on the event, billed as an opportunity to meet the Shelbyville Republican and make donations to Toys for Tots.

Tracy and Rachel Barrett, a consultant who helped organize the event and now advises Tracy’s congressional campaign, told The Tennessean that the guest list was limited to residents of Tracy’s Senate district. They likened the event to a tailgate party Tracy held at a Middle Tennessee State University football game in 2011.

Three TN Sites added to National Register of Historic Places

From the Tennessee Historical Commission:
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Historical Commission announced three Tennessee sites have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. It is part of a nationwide program that coordinates and supports efforts to identify, evaluate and protect historic resources. The Tennessee Historical Commission administers the program in Tennessee.
“The National Register honors places that help Tennesseans understand our heritage and what makes our communities unique and enjoyable,” said Patrick McIntyre, executive director of the Tennessee Historical Commission. “We are confident this recognition will help retain these unique sites for future generations to know and appreciate.”
Sites recently added to the National Register of Historic Places include:

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Editorial: Haslam Should Disclose Personal Payments to Ingram

Excerpt from a News Sentinel editorial on Gov. Bill Haslam hiring Tom Ingram with personal funds to serve as a consultant:
Haslam has said he still consults Ingram on political matters but pays for that advice out of pocket. The campaign finance disclosure forms he has submitted since his election show no payments to Ingram.
But they should.
Drew Rawlins, who is the executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Election Finance, said in an interview that an officeholder’s out-of-pocket payments for a consultant are not necessarily required to be included on disclosures. If an officeholder seeks advice on governance, he or she might not have to report the payment. If the candidate receives campaign advice, Rawlins said, disclosure would be required.
The solution is simple. Haslam should file amended campaign finance disclosure forms that reflect Ingram’s pay for political advice. And he should transfer funds to his campaign account to cover the costs. Though not necessarily required by the letter of the law, disclosure would enhance the governor’s standing as a proponent of openness.
As governor, Haslam should be transparent about the money he spends on political matters. There is nothing wrong with paying Ingram — or anyone else, for that matter — for political insight. He just needs to divulge such transactions to the citizens of Tennessee so they know who is speaking into the governor’s ear.