PACs

Harwell appoints PAC treasurer to TN State Museum governing board

House Speaker Beth Harwell has reappointed Deputy Speaker Steve McDaniel to the governing board of the Tennessee State Museum, but is giving her own seat on the panel to Tina Hodges, CEO of Nashville-based Advance Financial.

Harwell had previously appointed herself to a four-year term on the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission that officially expired June 30, but she continued to serve through the panel’s July 3 meeting, as allowed under relevant rules allowing an appointee to stay aboard until a successor is appointed, said Kara Owen, spokeswoman to the speaker in response to email inquiries.

Subsequently, Owen said, Harwell appointed Hodges, who already serves – by appointment of Gov. Bill Haslam – on the board of directors for Volunteer Tennessee, a group that has the declared mission of promoting “volunteerism and community service” by Tennesseans. She is currently listed as vice chairman.

Hodges also serves as treasurer of Advance PAC, a political action committee operated by Advance Financial. A check of the Registry of Campaign Finance website for 2015 and 2016 shows Advance PAC giving Harwell’s reelection campaign for her state House seat $10,000 and it also donated $8,000 to the leadership PAC operated by Harwell.

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Complaint filed with FEC contends campaign finance law violated by Kelsey congressional campaign

News release from Campaign Legal Center

WASHINGTON –  Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and Democracy 21 (D21) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and will file with the Department of Justice (DOJ) against former Congressional candidate Brian Kelsey and others, including the American Conservative Union (ACU), for their part in a scheme to circumvent contribution limits and disclosure laws by illegally funneling funds from Kelsey’s state account through intermediaries to secretly support Kelsey’s run for U.S. Congress in 2016.

“In order to disguise the illegal transfer of prohibited state money into his federal race, it appears that Kelsey concocted a scheme to pass the money through a dark money daisy chain and straw donor reimbursement plot,” said Brendan Fischer, director, federal and FEC reform at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “Kelsey appears to have stacked legal violation on top of legal violation, and we anticipate that the FEC and DOJ will take this very seriously.”

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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.

Possible ‘straw donor scheme’ seen in Kelsey campaign money transactions with other legislators

When state Sen. Brian Kelsey ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year, he was giving political money to state legislators who also gave money to him, reports The Tennessean, and a Washington attorney who specializes in campaign finance law says the transactions could be a “straw donor scheme” that warrants a federal investigation.

The story – declared part of “an ongoing USA Today Network-Tennessee investigation” – lists seven Republican state legislators and one unsuccessful GOP candidate for a state House seat who gave to Kelsey and received funds from his state Senate campaign account or a PAC he operates. It also says Kelsey also donated from his Senate account to eight legislators who did not give to his congressional campaign and sent money through his Red State PAC to 10 legislators who did not donate to his campaign.

The legislators with back-and-forth donations: Sens. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, Steve Dickerson of Nashville, Delores Gresham of Somerville and Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro; Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin, Ron Gant of Rossville and Martin Daniel of Knoxville. Steve Glover, who lost a race against Democratic Rep. Darren Jernigan of Nashville, is also listed. An excerpt:

A political consultant with knowledge of the Tennessee lawmaker’s transactions said Kelsey asked multiple state legislators to make a federal contribution in exchange for a donation to their own state campaigns.

While Kelsey and his donors denied coordination, the dates and amounts of the transactions and previous evidence involving campaign contributions are enough to warrant a Federal Election Commission investigation, (Brendan) Fischer said.

“It’s even further evidence that there was some sleazy business happening in Tennessee with these transfers of funds,” Fischer said.

Fischer is “an attorney and Federal Election Commission reform program director with Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center.”

Note: The newspaper had a report last week questioning the legality of money shifting between Kelsey’s campaign, two PACS and a major GOP donor. There’s a post on that article HERE.

Legality of Kelsey-PAC campaign money shifting questioned

There’s a money trail leading from the state campaign coffers of Sen. Brian Kelsey to radio advertisements used by an outside group to buoy his unsuccessful 2016 congressional bid, reports The Tennessean.

Kelsey’s trail involves the use of political action committees controlled by a private Nashville club (The Standard Club), a prominent but controversial GOP donor (Andrew Miller) and a well-known conservative advocacy organization (the American Conservative Union). It also may indicate illegal conduct by Kelsey and others, an expert said.

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Paul Ryan schedules Knoxville fundraiser with TN Republican congressmen

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan is scheduled to visit Knoxville Thursday evening for a private fundraiser hosted by Republican members of the Tennessee congressional delegation, according to a widely-distributed invitation.

The invitation says basic cost of admittance is $2,500 per couple — $10,000 to come early and have a photo made with Ryan and/or the congressmen. Checks go to Team Ryan, a political action committee set up by the House speaker that, in turn, is affiliated with the National Congressional Campaign Committee, fundraising arm of the U.S. House Republican Caucus.

Presumably, Tennessee congressional delegation members will get a piece of the proceeds..

The invite says you have to RSVP to get the location, but Brian Hornback reports the reception is at Knoxville’s Cherokee Country Club with another gathering apparently planned afterwards at the home of James A. “Big Jim” Haslam II, Gov. Bill Haslam’s father and founder of Pilot Corp., to benefit the governor’s political action committee. Admission to the Haslam PAC fundraiser is $25,000 per couple.

TSEA backs underdog Democrat in House District 95 special election

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Employees Action Movement endorses Julie Byrd Ashworth, D-Collierville, for House District 95.

“Working to elect candidates who support state employees is an important goal for TEAM-PAC, which is why we are happy to endorse Julie Byrd Ashworth for House District 95,” TEAM-PAC Administrative Committee Chair Patricia Bowman said.

“Ms. Ashworth’s experience as a trail lawyer will be an asset on Capitol Hill in Nashville as she advocates for state employees,” TSEA Executive Director Randy Stamps said. “Our local state employees were impressed with her knowledge of the issues affecting state employees.”

Note: Ashworth won the Democratic nomination in the House District 95 special election, called after the resignation of Republican Rep. Mark Lovell after he was accused of sexual harassment, without a primary opponent. The Republican nominee, businessman and school board member Kevin Vaughan, defeated six opponents in the heavily Republican district. The general election is June 15. TSEA Executive Director Stamps, quoted in the release, is a former Republican state representative and former political director of the Tennessee Republican Party.

Last-minute move to raise campaign contribution limits fizzles on House floor

In literally the last minutes of the 2017 legislative session, an attempt to substantially increase Tennessee political contribution limits surfaced, then subsided after a preliminary vote indicated it would fail. But the proposal will be up for a vote on both the House and Senate floors when the 2018 session begins.

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Senators vote for accepting more campaign money

The state Senate has amended a House campaign finance bill to double the campaign cash that individual donors, special interest political action committees and political parties can give senators during their four-year terms, reports the Times-Free Press.

The bill (HB16) began as a House GOP effort to let representatives and senators create a loophole in the state’s long-standing in-session ban on fundraising and sought to let members raise political money during veto-override sessions.

But in committee, senators added a provision allowing their contribution limits to reset every two years, instead of every four years as the law has long directed.

Sen. Ken Yager, chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee who handled the bill on the floor, said in response to Yarbro’s questions that the issue was “parity” (with members of the House, whose limits are already reset every two years).

With Yarbro noting that the bill would effectively raise the total caps on all PAC money from the current $236,200 in a four-year campaign cycle to $472,400 and political party money from $126,000 per cycle to $252,000, Yager referred other questions to Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown.

Southerland offered the justification that senators have three times the residents in their districts as House members.

On legislators, a private club, a PAC and ‘a peculiar circle’

The private club and the political action committee operated by The Standard, an upscale Nashville restaurant located near the state Capitol, have been giving and receiving money from state legislator campaign funds, reports The Tennessean. And sometimes there’s “a peculiar circle of payments.”

Twenty-five Republican state legislators and Nashville’s Democratic District Attorney, Glen Funk, are members of the private club and collectively they have paid about $150,000 from their political campaign accounts to the restaurant and club since it was founded in 2009. About $50,000 of that went to pay for private club memberships.

Standard Club PAC, meanwhile, has donated about $100,000 to campaigns of people who are members or who frequent the club, the newspaper says. An excerpt:

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