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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Boards,commissions and lobbyists

It seems the heat is getting hotter on Governor Bredesen and he is not sure what to do. The people are screaming for reform, but the reform needed will directly hurt the Governor and his party. What am I talking about?

Well, lobbyists for starters. Many are good, low paid or voluteer lobbyists who work for a cause. But some receive 6 to 7 figures to influence laws and they do it well. The closer or tighter they are to the legislators or power the more they influence and the more money they can make.

Let's examine the Governor's cabinet-his “bastion of power and influence.” Governor Bredesen's head honcho in charge of handing out taxpayer funds and perks to companies is Matt Kisber, top brass over Economic Development. Mr. Kisber's wife is a well-paid lobbyist.

Dave Goetz, a former well-paid and very connected lobbyist, is now Finance Commissioner.

Jenna Lodge heads up General Services for the Governor. Her husband is lobbyist Dick Lodge.

Anna Windrow stepped down from serving on the Governor's staff for years and in just a few weeks managed to land some of the most plum lobbying contracts in the state.

Ford acted foolishly-and he was lazy. He took the money himself. If he had only told the E-Cycle people “I can only accept $1,000 from you or $5,000 from your PAC, but you can hire my son/spouse/daughter and pay them $100,000 to lobby me,” the FBI would still be empty handed.

Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and his lobbyist wife Betty Anderson seem to do quite well with their arrangement. We will never know how many figures they earn because they don't have to report it.(most suspect mid to high 6 figures)

Representative Joe Armstrong runs the committee that works on health care and TennCare. Think anyone might like to hire his wife? Yes, she too is a lobbyist and one of the best paid as well.

What if you are not related to a legislator but still want big influence? Well, for those folks they can serve on a state board or commission that determines and reports what is best for the state. Yes, lobbyists all across the state serve on many boards that effect what they lobby . Common sense would tell you there is no way for a lobbyist to serve on a board in an unbiased way, but yet it's done all the time.

The Governor and the Speaker-who have their own political agendas-appoint these lobbyists. John Wilder just tried (unsuccessfully) to change the law so he could keep a “good friend” on a board. This is the third time the law would have been changed to allow for his “friend” (and big donor/lobbyist Tom Hensley) to be able stay on a TWRA board.

What about political races? What if you are running a race against an entrenched legislator well connected with lobbyists? Would your worst nightmare be the same lobbyists in charge of the vote-counting? Well, it happens. Many lobbyists serve on state or local election commissions .Good luck!

I have tried to obtain a list of all the lobbyists and the boards and commissions they serve on, but I was told the list would be over 5 pages long and a lot of work. If anyone would like to help with this project, please contact me.

If these types of conflicts existed in the legal profession, these folks would be disbarred for conflict of interest.

Unless something big happens, it is doubtful that things will change in the legislature. As long as the money flows, the people in power will turn a blind eye and even continue to appoint lobbyists to powerful boards and commissions. I have been told, the Governor was told up front and early by the lobbyists what they will and won't accept in the way of ethics reform.

I hate to repeat myself, but the Republicans had a bill that would stop this (one sponsored by me, another by Beth Harwell) but guess what? Yes, it was killed in State and Local subcommittee. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

15 comments:

  1. Stacey, I believe that you are a true leader to trumpet these facts. You and Beth are rare members of the legislature indeed. I cannot thank you enough; ultimately, I hope that the people of TN understand and appreciate what you are trying to do.

    All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing (Edmund Burke).

    If the people don't demand ethics in government, then they deserve the type of sleazy leadership that we have now. Thank you for having the courage to adopt the "damn the torpedos, full speed ahead" approach to bringing honor back to the legislature.

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  2. It has become too imbred in Nashville. Make sure you include Chris Newton on the list Stacey.

    It is time for him to go, as he is the Richard Nixon of the Tennessee Legislature and an albatross around Republican necks. An older article in the Tennessean. The article pointed out activities by Chris Newton:

    "Kelley Beaman noted that Newton is employed by former lobbyist Brenda McKenzie and cited that as unethical in Tuesday's press conference. Newton works for Rail Car Innovations, a company partly owned by McKenzie, who with her then husband, Toby, once owned one of the nation's largest payday loan chains. Newton said he sees nothing unethical about the arrangement."

    It also pointed out that "the state ranked 46th out of 50 in a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trust that evaluated states on the quality of their campaign disclosure laws. Additionally, the Center for Public Integrity reported that Tennessee is 45th in the nation on the regulation of lobbyists."

    www.tennessean.com/government/ archives/04/07/54660751.shtml

    You have to view the cached page, otherwise the link is unavailable.

    Chris does not merely receive a payroll check for his service as State Representative. It was reported to me by a source, that I would have been correct in the winter of 1994 and the spring of 1995, but not now. He graduated from UTC in May of 1994 and was elected in November of 1994. In 1996 he worked for Don Bird as a Sales Manager for Don's Fence Company from 1996-1998. He then accepted a job at Chattanooga Railcar Services, LLC initially as Director of Business Development and later as Quality Assurance and Safety Manager at the same company from 1998-2002. In July of 2002, he accepted a position with Railcar Innovations, LLC in Cleveland as QA & Safety Manager as well as Sales and Customer Support. In February of 2005, he made a lateral transfer from Railcar Innovations, LLC to Brenda Lawson & Associates, LLC as Director of Human Resources for several companies.

    But the point could be made that there is a potential conflict when he sat on the transportation committee and working for a railcar company. I am unaware of his specific role either on this committee or with the companies. It is really splitting hairs at this point, and I certainly do not wish to deprive anyone of a livelihood. However, an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity released in September 24, 2004, the study included results of its year-long examination of state legislators' personal financial disclosures. Researchers entered lawmakers' outside ties into a database and cross-referenced them with committee assignments and lists of lobbying organizations.

    In this way, the Center analyzed three key indicators of the potential for conflict: overlapping committee seats, ties to lobbyists, and employment by other government agencies. Of 126 state legislators in office in 2001 and disclosing their interests in 2002, in Tennessee:
    • 23.8% of lawmakers sat on a legislative committee with authority over a professional or business interest.
    • 8.7% of lawmakers had financial ties to businesses or organizations that lobby state government.
    • 19% of lawmakers received income from a government agency other than the state legislature.

    The Center for Public Integrity reported that Chris’s disclosed the following: http://www.public-i.org/oi/db.aspx?act=law&lid=TN-0115&cycle=2002

    Keep fighting the good fight.

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  5. it is bad enough that you, as a state legislator, cant spell the name of a comissioner correctly...but you could at least correctly identify the dept. they are commissioner of.

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  6. I still don't understand your logic. At one time you suggested putting Rep. Joey Hensley on the TennCare oversight and his bills involving TennCare because of his expertise as a physician. Simulatenouly, you say that legislators should not be to vote on bills that involve their financial interests.

    You would want farmers on the AG committee because they are most familair with processes of farming and understand issues that involve farming. How can a farmer who is a member of the AG committe vote? To me, it only makes sense to put legislators who are familiar with a particular profession on those committees.


    As far as being employed by a lobbyist or a lobbyist-owned organization, there is a definite conflict of interest. Once they leave office, however, former legislators should be able to seek employment wherever they can.

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  7. You make a good point, Rustang. More to the point is who is the alternative? What "average citizen" is willing to spend the time to educate himself on, say, trucks, to sit on the transportation board?

    The purpose of these boards and commissions and committees is to organise legislation and serve as transmission conduits to and from the legislators and the public, which includes the various industries. It's a system which automatically lends itself to coziness if not straight corruption.

    The answer is with the voters, who should demand honesty and a system which exposes the interests of members. Neither will occur until legislators reject the trough model of legislative behaviour, which they won't.

    And the "bribe my wife " system is the most blatant example of why.

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  8. How naive of you, rustang, to think that committee assignments are made according to a legislator's knowledge. ALL committee appointments are made by Speaker Naifeh and the number one priority is to set up enough members of a committee (or sub-committee) who are loyal to him so that he can kill any bill at will. If one of Naifeh's soldiers has a specific knowledge, great, but it isn't necessary at all.

    Silly you, committee appointments are about political rewards and punishments. Go ask Frank Buck. 

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  9. My bill would have stopped people from voting on bills that DIRECTLY benefit the
    legislator financially unless in the final budget vote. This would not prohibit
    professionals from voting on bills that deal with their profession (e.g. farmers
    voting, serving on agriculture committee) but if it will personally benefit them
    financially, then they should recuse themselves. For instance, Dr. Hensley
    could work to improve TennCare, but if the bill were to establish tax cuts for
    doctors, then he would not vote.

    Those serving on the agriculture committee could vote on bills in their field
    (although many states do not allow even this) but could not vote on bills
    directly and financially beneficial to them, for example farm subsidies.

    Lawyers on the judiciary committee could vote on legal bills unless it was a
    vote on a bill that would directly financially benefit them, such as mandating
    legal fees. For instance, try to pass tort reform when the committee is full of
    lawyers who stand to lose fees if there are fewer lawsuits and punitive damage
    caps. If you can't get a bill out of this committee, it will never get a vote
    on the house floor--even if it is wanted by the people of Tennessee.

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  10. I was explaining the system, not how the system was implemented. If Dr. Hensley changed the how TennCare works, how could it NOT effect him financially. I am not an insurance expert, but I would think that certain insurance companies pays docs a different amount than a regualr insurance company. By offering a proposition to "save TennCare" wouldn't it change the amount of people recieving TennCare, therefore, be a financial interest.

    From what and others understand is/was your bill trying to prevent those from voting on bills that directly affect the legislator. I would agree.

    If the bill were to say that says "Rep. X doesn't pay any sales tax." or "Rep X law firm is exempt from statute XYZ" I would agree with you.

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  11. I don't think that was very clear to many members down on the hill. If you look at the summary on the calendars, many interpreted it to be that they were not allowed to vote or sponsor any bill directly involving their profession, not the particular member.

    AND: I believe you can bring out a bill that is killed in subcommittee. I think it requires 60 hands, providing the speaker... yadda yadda yadda.

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  12. I don't think that was very clear to many members down on the hill. If you look at the summary on the calendars, many interpreted it to be that they were not allowed to vote or sponsor any bill directly involving their profession, not the particular member.

    AND: I believe you can bring out a bill that is killed in subcommittee. I think it requires 60 hands, providing the speaker... yadda yadda yadda.

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  13. 66 hands and if they would not do it for the NRA I doubt they will do it for ethics.

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  14. broome street said...
    it is bad enough that you, as a state legislator, cant spell the name of a comissioner correctly...but you could at least correctly identify the dept. they are commissioner of.

    9:13 AM

    It's also bad that you can't consistently spell "commissioner" and "can't."

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