Gov. Bill Haslam brushed aside an announcement this week that formal ethics complaints had been filed against him with the state’s Registry of Election Finance and the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
Speaking with TNReport.com after a speech at the Soda Pop Junction ice cream shop in Lynnville, Haslam said nothing improper has occurred in his dealings with a high-profile political consultant who heads a powerful lobbying firm.
The governor suggested the complaints are merely politically motivated attacks attributable to election-campaign jostling “this time of year.” The governor, a Republican, is up for re-election in 2014.
On Thursday former state Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester told reporters in Nashville that he is requesting a probe into Gov. Haslam’s association with prominent GOP political consultant Tom Ingram. News outlets began reporting earlier this year that Ingram was on Haslam’s campaign payroll. Critics of the governor question the relationship.
Forrester states in his complaint that for the past two-and-a-half years Haslam “failed to disclose expenses related to his gubernatorial campaign efforts, specifically the monies paid for the Services of political advisor Tom Ingram.”
Drawing from a July 11 NewsChannel5.com report, Forrester further alleges that “(d)uring this period of Governor Haslam paying Tom Ingram from private accounts, not subject to disclosure rules that promote transparency and safeguard citizens, Tom Ingram played a role in managing the Governor’s campaign events.”
During his press conference Thursday, Forrester accused Haslam of “hiding the truth from Tennesseans.” Forrester said the former Knoxville mayor “has had an abysmal record on transparency and openness” since becoming governor in 2011.
“He is asking us to trust him on this secret relationship with a high powered special interest lobbyist. Nobody is above the law and that is why I’m filing this ethics charge,” said Forrester, who resigned last winter from his post as the Tennessee Democratic Party’s top state officer.
“It’s important that people understand what the governor is doing, and the issue of accountability for an elected official is a higher standard than someone in private life,” Forrester said.
“All through his administration, there have been efforts to reduce transparency and make it difficult for people to understand,” he added. “It’s not just this particular incident that concerns me, but it’s this pattern of secrecy and unwillingness to be transparent about what’s going on.”
Alex Harris and Mark Engler contributed to this story.