AG says it’s OK for governors to hold political fundraisers at the executive residence

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has opined that Tennessee law permits fundraising events at the governor’s executive residence, but also requires disclosure of any related expenditures at such events.

The opinion was requested by state Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, after Gov. Bill Haslam hosted a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio during the Florida senator’s unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. (Note: The full opinion is HERE.)

The Times-Free Press has a write-up on the opinion. An excerpt:

Tennessee governors, both Democrats and Republicans, have for decades held or allowed political fundraising at the mansion. Campaign fundraisers have been held in the past at other state-owned venues by Republican and Democratic legislators, as well. That’s because Tennessee’s “Little Hatch Act” specifically includes an escape hatch for the state’s elected politicians.

The provision declares it illegal to use public buildings or facilities for meetings or preparation of campaign activity in support of any particular “candidate, party or measure.”

That is “unless reasonably equal opportunity is provided for presentation of all sides or views, or reasonably equal access to the buildings or facilities is provided all sides.”

In his response to a series of related questions posed by Clemmons, Slatery also said the state’s Campaign Financial Disclosure Act “would require the disclosure of such [public] expenditures if they constitute either a ‘contribution’ or an ‘expenditure’ as defined under the Act.”

It’s unclear how a state campaign financial disclosure requirement would apply in Rubio’s case. It’s not known who or what entity footed the bill. Moreover, Rubio himself is a federal officeholder and presumably not covered by the state’s campaign disclosure law.

The story also notes a second, separate opinion (HERE) requested by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, that says social media accounts set up by Tennessee municipalities may be subject to the state’s Open Records Act.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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