Tag Archives: secret

A Harwell-Haslam ‘Secret Political Slush Fund’ With GOP?

Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell have quietly channeled at least $91,800 to 24 Republican legislative candidates without disclosing who gave them the money to distribute.
The money maneuver, coordinated with the Tennessee Republican Party, is by all accounts legal. GOP officials checked with Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Registry of Election Finance, to make sure before setting up a separate, special bank account for money raised by Haslam and Harwell.
But Dick Williams, president of Common Cause Tennessee, said the arrangement “dilutes the whole concept of disclosure.” A Democratic Party spokesman called it a “secret political slush fund.”
The Harwell-Haslam fund was never publicly disclosed when it was set up earlier this year. Spokesmen for the governor, House speaker and state Republican Party all acknowledged its existence in response to News Sentinel inquiries, however, and Harwell’s office provided a list of 24 candidates who got donations ranging from $7,100 to $2,000 each.
All but four are Republicans seeking election to their first term in the state House. The four exceptions are incumbent Republicans facing tough re-election races on Tuesday — Reps. John Ragan of Oak Ridge, David Hawk of Greeneville, Jim Gotto of Nashville and Tim Wirgau of Buchanan.
A list of those who donated to the special account, known as the Governor’s Leadership Fund, was not provided.
Adam Nickas, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, said providing a list would require getting the information from the party’s comptroller and that there was no opportunity to do so last week.

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Haslam Keeps Secret Schedule (with no recedent for doing so)

Gov. Bill Haslam isn’t too keen on letting Tennesseans in on who he’s meeting behind closed doors, says Andrea Zelinski.
“There’s just a lot of discussions that we have, that any governor needs to have, as part of the decision-making process that we go through on so many different issues,” the governor said recently.
The administration rejected a request from TNReport in July to review or obtain copies of the governor’s calendar-scheduling planner dating back to his Jan. 15, 2010, inauguration through June 30, 2012.
Haslam’s office said his schedule falls under the protection of “deliberative process privilege.” The exception under common law allows for government secrecy in instances of communications, opinions and recommendations on policy issues.
However, the state government’s own open-records advocate, Elisha Hodge, says there’s no precedent under this exception in Tennessee to keep the governor’s calendar hidden from public view.
“In Tennessee, the deliberative process privilege has been discussed in a number of public records cases,” but never in the context of public officials’ calendars, said Hodge.
In the cases the judiciary did review, “the courts have never found the privilege to be applicable, based upon specific records that were at issue in the cases.”
Information like what’s on the governor’s schedule should be public, said Kent Flanagan, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
“I don’t want to know when he brushes his teeth, and I don’t want to know when he goes to bed,” Flanagan said. “But when he’s acting in the official capacity for the state of Tennessee, the people of Tennessee need to see how he’s performing his duties.”
The only way to challenge the administration’s stance would be to sue the administration and take the governor to court, which is a costly option.

Corker Has a Secret Plan to Balance the Federal Budget

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker says he’s developed a plan to reform taxes and balance the federal budget, but he’s not planning to release details until after the election.
He told the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/MsHQTd) on Monday that his plan will both cut entitlement spending and raise more money.
Corker said he intends to keep his “soup to nuts” plan private until after the presidential election is settled but he’s submitted a draft for review by congressional budget staff. The Chattanooga Republican said he thinks his proposal can provide a path to compromise between Republicans who want to cut spending and Democrats who want to raise taxes.
Corker is seeking re-election but doesn’t face a strong challenge in the Aug. 2 primary or Nov. 6 general election.

UPDATE: Corker’s latest campaign TV ad makes reference to the secret plan. Watch it HERE.

Text of Corker’s remarks in the commercial:
“I’m working hard to change the way Washington does business.
Putting a stop to endless deficit spending, a stop to all the unnecessary regulation.
We need a simpler, pro-growth tax system that encourages job creation, giving every Tennessean a chance to earn a good living or create a great business in an America that always lives within its means.
We don’t really have a choice.
That’s what we have to do.
I’m Bob Corker, and I approve this message.”

Secret Budget Meeting: First, GOP Only; Then Democrats Allowed

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers’ long tradition of meeting secretly to hash out budget plans is alive and well.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick confirmed to The Associated Press that key legislators met for several hours at a Nashville restaurant on Sunday to work through budget amendments.
“There have been secret meetings, I’m not going to deny,” McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Monday. “There’s been a lot of secrecy for 200 years. I don’t think it’s any worse than it’s always been.”
David Smith, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, said no administration officials attended Sunday’s meeting. Haslam’s predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, sought to discourage secret budget meetings, though that effort yielded mixed results.

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Applicants for Top University Jobs to Become Confidential

The names of those applying for the top jobs in Tennessee’s colleges and universities could be kept confidential unless they become a finalist under legislation poised for final passage today.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, who is sponsoring the bill (SB3751) at the behest of officials with the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems, said that confidentiality could lead more highly-qualified people to seek jobs as university presidents and college campus chancellors.
But House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said the present laws making the names of applicants public has worked well, as evidenced by the administrators now in place at state campuses.

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Haslam’s Bill to Seal Info on Companies Getting Grants Withdrawn

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam’s effort to close off public access to company information used to decide economic development grants was withdrawn Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Bo Watson of Hixson said that the decision followed a failure to reach a compromise.
“I just don’t think we could get the language right to satisfy everybody’s needs,” Watson said. “The administration sort of recognized that they were kind of at an impasse in trying to get the language right, and said we’ll just try this next year.”

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Secret ECD Code Names Revealed (well, some old ones)

Excerpt from a report on secret code names used by the Department of Economic and Community Development from the Nashville Business Journal:
Spaghetti. Tango. Washington. Pearl. Buckeye. And let’s not forget Project Dark, named after the Bruce Springsteen music video, “Dancing in the Dark,” where Springsteen pulls Courtney Cox onto the stage.
The names — though rather innocuous on the surface — each represent what officials consider a critical piece to the economic development process: keeping the names of companies that might expand or relocate here secret.
Whether it’s 600 new jobs or the expansion of existing business, project code names are created to hide the identity of the company until a final announcement. Sometimes it’s to keep sleuthing reporters off the trail (as was the case when Mars Petcare decided to change their project name to Project Skylar from Project Beta after we printed a story about their plans).
But more often, it’s a measure economic development officials said protects employees from conjecturing about future company plans and ensures that landowners don’t gouge prices when they realize there is a powerhouse knocking on the door.
…”Obviously, it is best to select a code name that has no relationship to the company. Even the most sophisticated/clever project code names can reveal a company identity if there is some type of ‘tie in’ to the company,” said Jeff Hite, director of business recruitment for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce . “For example, several years ago Project Zeta was connected to the company. At the time of the project, Catherine Zeta-Jones was the spokesperson for T-Mobile and this project turned out to be a customer service center for T-Mobile.”…
…”We usually use a first name, a reminder of who the client reminds us of, a location, a fan favorite,” said Carlyle Carol, vice president of economic development for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce . “Yet never anything that would give the project away.”
Example? Dell Computer’s plans were nicknamed Project Farmer. The company first moved to the area in May 1999, opening a 260,000-square-foot plant in Lebanon to produce desktop computers. The code name’s alleged connection, Carol said, was to the lyrics from “The Farmer in the Dell.”

House Panel OK on Sealing Teacher Evaluation Records

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to close public access to teacher evaluation data is advancing in the House.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Richard Montgomery of Sevierville was approved on a voice vote in the House State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday. The companion bill is headed for a floor vote in the Senate.
Sponsors say access to the data should be limited to school officials and not available to the general public.
Under recent changes to state law, half of teachers’ assessments must derive from testing data, while the rest comes from classroom observations.
Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters told reporters earlier this week that he favors the proposal because of the lack of confidence many educators have in the new evaluation system.

TEA Wants Teacher Evaluations Kept Confidential, Too

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said Monday that he favors a proposal to close public access to teacher evaluation data because of the lack of confidence many educators have in the new evaluation system.
The measure is headed for a full Senate vote, and the companion bill is awaiting a vote in the House State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday.
Sponsors say access to the data should be limited to school officials and not available to the general public.
Winters spoke to reporters on Monday after hearing a presentation from a Tennessee Department of Education official on the implementation of the evaluation system.

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New Haslam Program: Bribes for Jobs (satirically speaking)

Scott McNutt lampoons the governor’s push for cash grants to businesses – and the lieutenant governor’s push for unlimited PAC donations – in his Sunday satire column. Excerpts:
Gov. Bill Haslam, R-One Percent, recently announced a plan to lure businesses to Tennessee by throwing massive amounts of cash at them without public knowledge.
Haslam’s proposal would change the focus of Tennessee’s FastTrack program from tax incentives and infrastructure installment to simple bribery to draw companies to relocate or expand in the state. The program would be renamed the FastCash program.
Haslam explained that lots of cold, hard cash, preferably in small bills secretly delivered in discreet brown paper bags, is the surest way to incentivize businesses.
“Businesses don’t care about tax breaks or infrastructure,” he said. “I’m from business; I know what businesses want. We want money — gobs of money, oodles of money, geysers of money, money coming out of our noses. Companies will only be lured by an avalanche of cash — a cashalanche.”
In defiance of the just-ended Sunshine Week, which celebrates open government and freedom of information, Haslam said the public should remain in the dark about his business cashalanches.
“If you ask other states, they’ll tell you, ‘We don’t tell the little people about our big-business cashalanches,'” he said.
Haslam proposes building giant cash slides to direct money across the state to companies he has targeted. He noted that these slides might overrun existing infrastructure and services.
The governor’s plan prompted the Tennessee Buyway Patrol to issue a statewide cashalanche watch. The TBP said citizens should be alert for waves of bills sweeping past the state’s crumbling infrastructure and underfunded services on their way to the targeted businesses.
…Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey was not pleased with Haslam’s proposal. He said the FastTrack program should entail “doing for businesses what they don’t care to do themselves.
“By that I mean, when new employers come in, we ought to pick up their dry-cleaning, provide valet service, maybe shine their shoes and bring them breakfast in bed,” he said. “We shouldn’t just throw money at them. That will make them feel cheap.”
Ramsey’s opposition to Haslam’s FastCash proposal may stem from his support of a bill repealing limits on how much of itself politically active cash (PAC) can throw at legislative candidates.
Under current law, PACs can throw no more than $107,200 of themselves per election at a House or Senate candidate — or $214,400 for a primary and general election combined.
Ramsey wants to eliminate all limitations on political contributions and simply require that recipients disclose amounts received by scribbling a note on the refrigerator door.
“Limits are silly because government officials’ appetite for money is limitless,” he said. “Businesses should throw us money, not vice versa. If the governor gives cash to private employers, then we must make them funnel it back to us via PACs. It’s like E=MC2, where matter is neither created nor destroyed; only this formula decrees employers’ cash equals our money. We need an endless money-back feedback loop.”