TN lobbying news notes

The limit on value of gifts that can be provided by lobbyist employers to legislators – typically food and beverages at receptions and dinners deemed “in-state events” in lobbying laws– was increased to $61 per day or $121 per year effective Jan. 1, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission website. When the state’s main lobbying ethics law was enacted in 2006, the ceiling was $50 per day, but the law calls for a cost-of-living adjustment every two years. Before the January adjustment, the limit was $59 per day.

-The Ethics Commission also has an updated “Tennessee Lobbyist Manual” for 2017. It’s HERE.

-Cullen Earnest, who works for Advance Financial, has been elected the new chairman of the Tennessee Lobbyists Association. He succeeds Jill Talbert, who has multiple clients.

-The Tennessean interviewed several lobbyists for a front-page story bearing the print edition headline, “The Power of the Lobbyist” with a sidebar headlined, “In Tennessee, lobbyist employers face few disclosure rules.”

Excerpt from the former, which pegs AT&T “at the top of the influence list” with 16 lobbyists registered so far this year:

AT&T spent between $650,000 and $800,000 on lobbyist compensation during the first six months of 2014, 2015 and 2016 combined, the time of year when the Tennessee legislature meets. In addition, AT&T spent more than $82,000 in 50 campaign contributions before the 2016 state primary election. The company also spent thousands in a third key area, called lobbying expenses excluding lobbyist compensation, which includes money spent on items such as brochures, advertising campaigns and polling.

“If you were to ask me who has the most lobbying influence at the state, I would say without even batting an eye AT&T, and they’ve built that up over a long period of time,” said one Tennessee lobbyist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the company.

Excerpt from the latter:

Under Tennessee law, there’s no way to find out exactly how much money companies spend on lobbyists and lobbyist-related activities.

State law allows companies and organizations to report how much they paid lobbyists and how much they spent on other related expenditures as a range, not specific amounts. For example, organizations spent between $14.3 million and $29.6 million on lobbyist compensation during the first half of 2016, according to a Tennessean analysis of state data.

Note: Disclosures for the second half of 2016 are due Feb. 14.  In the 2015 Ethics Commission annual report, the reported lobbyist compensation range was $14 million to $28.8 million for the first six months; $11.6 million to $25.5 million – or a minimum of $26.6 million for the calendar year and a maximum of $54.3 million. The combined total of “lobbyist-related expenditures” for 2015, meanwhile, was a range of from $3.5 million to $19.7 million. And another $1,194,169 was paid out by lobbyist employers for “in-state events.”

AT&T in 2015 reported lobbyist compensation payments of between $200,000 and $250,000 in both the first half of the year and the second half for a total range of $400,000 to $500,000. (Lobbyist contractual arrangements for payments vary considerably – many get a flat fee, paid in advance before the session starts and thus not counted in disclosures for the first six months of a given year.)  AT&T’s lobbyist-related expenditures in 2015 calendar year were in the range of between $20,000 to $50,000 in the two reports combined.  The company also hosts a reception at the start of each legislative session, reported as an in-state event, and it’susually one of the more expensive gatherings of the year. In 2015, AT&T reported its reception cost $57,297. In 2015, it was $43,261.

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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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