lobbyists

Mark Green launches group to promote Christians in politics; won’t run for any new office himself

State Sen. Mark Green, who had talked about running for Congress after withdrawing as President Trump’s nominee to become U.S. Army secretary, says he is instead launching a new political advocacy organization that help other Christian conservatives run for office.

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TN Planned Parenthood leader stepping down after 17 years

Jeff Teague, long-time president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, has announced he is leaving the group Friday to “explore other opportunities,” reports the Times Free Press.

The group provides reproductive health services, including abortion, and has been at the center of any number of political and court battles in Tennessee over the years. It operates centers in Nashville and Knoxville.

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Trump’s latest choice for U.S. Army secretary: Lobbyist who once worked for Bill Frist and Fred Thompson

President Donald Trump’s third proposed nominee as U.S. Army Secretary, is Mark Esper, Raytheon Inc.’s vice president of government relations and previously employed by two of Tennessee’s former U.S. senators, reports Politico.

A Gulf War veteran, Esper is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and a 1986 graduate of West Point. He has worked for Raytheon, one of the “big five” defense contractors, since 2010… Esper is a veteran of both Capitol Hill and the Pentagon. He has been the policy director for the House Armed Services Committee as well as director of national security affairs for then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

He was also a deputy assistant secretary of Defense during the George W. Bush administration and was the national policy director for the late Sen. Fred Thompson’s 2008 presidential bid.

… Trump’s first pick for the Army post, billionaire New York financier Vincent Viola, withdrew in February amid difficulty untangling his complex finances. The second pick, Tennessee Republican state Sen. Mark Green, withdrew amid mounting opposition over controversial statements he’d made about LGBT rights and Muslims.

After IMPROVE, Haslam promotes benefits while AFP trashes ‘massive $2 billion tax hike’

While Gov. Bill Haslam is touting the benefits of his IMPROVE Act tax package, Americans for Prosperity is doing just the opposite in its own statewide campaign, according to reports in the Knoxville News Sentinel and in the Kingsport Times News.

The governor, speaking at an IMPROVE Act promotional event in Elizabethton last week, said the road projects funded by the package’s fuel tax increase will have a “huge economic impact” benefiting the state.

“We’re also putting money back in citizens’ hands. They will have more money to grocery shop … the other thing is the cut on manufacturers. Somebody like Eastman obviously produces a lot of jobs. Eastman will now have more incentive to keep those jobs in Tennessee because the tax they pay as a manufacturer will be more in line with our neighboring states.”

AFP Tennessee, meanwhile, is going around the state holding rallies to thank legislators who voted against the Haslam-sponsored measure and cites an American Legislative Exchange (ALEC) statement saying the overall package means Tennesseans will pay a net of $2 billion in additional taxes over the next ten years – despite the grocery tax cuts and corporate tax cuts.

“We knew the Improve Act was a tax increase for most Tennesseans,” AFP-TN State Director Andy Ogles said. “It is a shame only 43 lawmakers opposed this massive two-billion-dollar tax hike even as Tennessee had over a billion-dollar surplus, but those that did stand up for taxpayers deserve our thanks.”

(Note: The ALEC comment is included in a June “State of the States” roundup on gubernatorial doings nationwide. The whole thing, including the Tennessee portion, is HERE. The AFP press release is HERE. A Haslam news release on his promotional efforts is HERE.)

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AMA poll: Most Tennesseans don’t want cuts to Medicaid

The American Medical Association, which opposes both the House-approved version of legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare and the latest proposed version from Senate Republicans, has commissioned a poll that basically says most Tennesseans agree with that position.

The first sentence of a Times Free Press report says that 60 percent of surveyed Tennesseans oppose cuts to TennCare/Medicaid funding, which both versions would do, and otherwise summarizes the findings. An excerpt:

The June 15-19 poll of 500 registered Tennessee voters was among surveys conducted in seven states by the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

…In another finding, 56 percent don’t want senators to pass the House bill as is, with 30 percent wanting “major” changes made and 26 percent saying they didn’t want senators to pass any part of the House bill.

Only 9 percent of voters said they wanted the Senate to pass the House legislation just as it is, while 24 percent wanted to see senators make minor changes before passing it.

Forty-nine percent of the Tennesseans surveyed said they viewed TennCare positively. Another 19 percent were neutral. Only 15 percent held unfavorable views of TennCare.

Voters were evenly divided — 39 percent either way — over whether to keep Medicaid funding at its present level or to increase it. Only 9 percent want to decrease Medicaid funding.

…The poll’s accompanying memo from pollsters said “it is important to note” that a majority of those surveyed — 57 percent — are themselves enrolled or have a family member enrolled in Medicaid, or know someone with Medicaid coverage.

Note: The AMA poll press release is HERE. The affiliated Tennessee Medical Association recently issued a press release opposing the proposed Senate bill, HERE.

Former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey becoming a lobbyist

Former Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has announced he will become a lobbyist in the 2018 legislative session, reports the Kingsport Times News.

The retired lawmaker told a Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors (NETAR) legislative luncheon on Thursday that he’ll be lobbying for Realtors and others. Ramsey, a Blountville Republican who served as lieutenant governor and speaker of the Tennessee Senate for 10 years, noted a ban on him lobbying state lawmakers expires in November.

…Ramsey, a Realtor and auctioneer, said he’s been hired as a member of the Nashville-based Farrar and Bates law firm headed up by his old friend, Tennessee Association of Realtors lobbyist Russ Farrar.

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Addiction medication company reported pushing product through legislation, donating to TN legislators

Alkermes, a company that makes an addiction treatment medication called Vivitrol, has been pushing legislation at the state level that would give its product a preference over others, according to a National Public Radio report. At the same time, affliliate WPLN reports that the Alkermes donated more than $20,000 to Tennessee legislators last year.

State records show Alkermes registered four lobbyists for this year’s Tennessee legislative session. The company’s PAC registered to make state-level donations late in 2015, beginning actual donations in January of 2016.

There were several bills filed this year dealing with addiction treatment – including some that appear to be placeholder “caption bills” designed to be amended later. But a quick skim of legislative records indicates none advanced out of committee.

The NPR report – bearing the headline “A Drugmaker Tries To Cash In On The Opioid Epidemic, One State Law At A Time” — focuses on Indiana, where a registered Alkermes lobbyist, who also heads a mental health advocacy group, drafted a bill that was approved after what some thought was a misleading promotional effort. Excerpt:

He said the legislation would move the state “toward evidence-based treatment.”

But the bill wouldn’t do that. Instead, it would cement rules making it harder to access certain addiction medications — medications that many patients rely on. The goal was to steer doctors toward a specific brand-name drug: Vivitrol.

… His efforts have helped turn Indiana into what Alkermes describes in investor documents as an “up-and-coming” state, where the drug’s sales are poised to jump dramatically.

McCaffrey’s work promoting Vivitrol via legislation in Indiana is part of a larger pattern. An investigation by NPR and Side Effects Public Media has found that in statehouses across the country, and in Congress, Alkermes is pushing Vivitrol while contributing to misconceptions and stigma about other medications used to treat opioid addiction.

From WPLN:

In Tennessee, Alkermes has made 30 contributions to Democratic and Republican lawmakers and to political action committees. All of those were between January of last year and the November election. The company has also hired lobbyists.

It’s not clear, though, this early-stage political push has been persuasive. Marie Williams, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, says Vivitrol can be an effective treatment for some opioid abusers, but Tennessee doesn’t prefer it to other therapies.

“What we want is for people to get avenues of treatment, and we are for any avenue that will help you get into recovery and stay in recovery,” she says.

But, state officials add, drug courts are using Vivitrol more often. And that’s where many decisions about treatment are made.

Note: House Speaker Beth Harwell, who recently urged Attorney General Herbert Slatery to file a lawsuit against manufacturers of opioid drugs, was one of the bigger beneficiaries of Alkermes donations — $1,000 to her reelection campaign and $500 to her leadership PAC.

The Alkermes PAC on June 6 filed an amended version of its 4th quarter 2016 disclosure with the Registry of Election Finance that appears to duplicate most of the donations listed in a previous disclosure. (The duplication’s are not included in reaching the count of more than $20,000 to 30 legislators and PACs.)  Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance,  says via email that the Registry has sent a letter asking for clarification of the filing.

On fines for violations of TN campaign finance, lobbying laws going unpaid

The Registry of Election Finance and the Tennessee Ethics Commission have levied $730,000 in civil penalties since 2010, but collected just 21 percent of that total, reports The Tennessean.

The Registry, which oversees enforcement of campaign finance laws, has $356,125 in unpaid fines during the period while the Ethics Commission, which oversees enforcement of lobbying laws and the filing of conflict-of-interest disclosures, has $218,380 in unpaid penalties. (Note: A big chunk of the unpaid Registry penalties are from 2016, when the agency assessed $215,300 in fines with $172,275 unpaid as of last month, according to Registry figures.) If other unpaid penalties going back up to  26 years are added, the unpaid total reaches more than $1 million.

These findings underline what many Tennessee politicos already know: The public entities tasked with holding officials accountable have little, if any, teeth.

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Deal providing tax-exempt bonds to Nashville charter schools brings criticism

Working with a politically-connected law firm, two Nashville charter schools used an obscure Metro Nashville board to receive tax-exempt bonds for their projects that are drawing intense scrutiny after going unnoticed by other city officials for months, according to the Tennessean.

The deals approved by the Metro Health and Educational Facilities Board for Rocketship and Purpose Prep charter schools do not use local taxpayer money and contain no provisions that would put taxpayers on the hook. But critics on the Metro Council and the Nashville school board say the charters should go to banks for private financing and not use the facilities board, which can issue tax-free bonds for nonprofit groups.

They directed particularly sharp criticism at a $7.74 million in bonds for Rocketship, which is part of a national charter school network.

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Giannini part of new TN government/political consulting firm with Memphis as first client

Bill Giannini, a former deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance who unsuccessfully sought election as Tennessee Republican chairman in December, has launched a new consulting firm that, the Nashville Post reports, will “focus on efficient government and performance management” — not lobbying.

Called Resolve Consulting, the firm of the former Haslam appointee and his team will have a mix of public and private clients, with some political consulting on the side… Rachel Selbe is also a principal and the firm’s vice president. Selbe is a former program and policy development director for the state, and she served as an assistant general counsel for the state’s Regulatory Boards Division. Other employees include Emily Janney and Greer Kelly as strategic consultants and Kellee Mannix as a consultant and coach.

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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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