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TN Forum: Retention Campaign Mostly Funded by Lobbyists, Judges, Lawyers

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; August 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE — According to the most recent financial disclosures available at the Tennessee Registry of Elections website, Tennessee’s liberal Supreme Court is relying almost exclusively on lobbyists, judges and lawyers for their campaign cash. Nearly 70% of the Supreme Court’s coordinated campaign contributions during the most recent reporting period came from the legal community.

“Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade are clearly relying on their buddies on the bench and lawyers who must appear before them to fund their campaign,” said Susan Kaestner of the Tennessee Forum. “Accepting, much less soliciting, cash from lawyers who may have to practice in your court brings up a whole host of ethical dilemmas.”

“These lawyers were either trying to curry favor or felt intimidated into giving,” said Kaestner. “Nothing good can come from either of those scenarios.”

“I find it deeply concerning that there are at least two lobbyists on these disclosures. It is against the law for lobbyists to give to gubernatorial or legislative candidates. If you are a judge trying to remain truly independent, the last thing you want is to be seen cozying up to a lobbyist. Special interest money handed over straight from lobbyists to sitting justices has no place in our Supreme Court.”

“This is a campaign that is funded by trial lawyers and conducted by Obama operatives,” stated Kaestner. “Neither this court nor its campaign represents the average Tennessean in any way, shape or form.”

Each member of the court had an overwhelming majority of their campaign dollars come from the legal community during the most recent reporting period. Sharon Lee received the highest dollar amount at $73,780.00 which amounted to 71.55% of her contributions. Connie Clark’s total lawyer contributions clocked in at $55,685 or 70.19% and Gary Wade received 63.78% of his donations from lawyers which amounted to $53,239.

Altogether the Supreme Court coordinated campaign received $182,704 from lawyers, judges or lobbyists. That’s 68.7% of the total contributions taken in.

At least two people currently registered to lobby in Tennessee appear on the disclosures. Emily Ogden gave $250 to Sharon Lee and Candy Toler gave $100 to Gary Wade.

Tennessee Code Annotated 3-6-304(j) states: “No lobbyist shall offer or make any campaign contribution, including any in-kind contribution, to or on behalf of the governor or any member of the general assembly or any candidate for the office of governor, state senator or state representative.”

TN Right to Life Joins Fight to Unseat Supremes

Press release from the Tennessee Forum; August 1, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Late yesterday, Tennessee Right to Life, the largest pro-life organization in Tennessee, put the full weight of its organization behind the effort to replace Supreme Court Judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.

“The replacement effort has been building support and catching fire across the state,” said Susan Kaestner, President of The Tennessee Forum. “We are pleased to see Tennessee Right to Life speaking out on the importance of replacing the liberals on our Supreme Court.”

Tennessee Right to Life’s full endorsement letter is below.

Dear Members of Tennessee Right to Life,

Early voting is underway and Tennessee Right to Life is receiving many inquiries regarding the August 7 vote to replace three Supreme Court Justices.

Tennessee Right to Life is leading the critical campaign to win passage of Amendment 1 in the November election. It is important to note, however, that Amendment 1 is only necessary because of the judicial arrogance of the Tennessee Supreme Court. In the landmark case of Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee v. Sundquist, members of the state Supreme Court imagined themselves entitled to amend our Tennessee Constitution on the matter of abortion without the consent of Tennessee’s people.

Not only were common sense safeguards for the unborn and abortion-vulnerable women immediately stripped from state law books, so was any opportunity to adapt the challenged laws because the Tennessee Supreme Court established abortion as a so-called “fundamental right” in the Tennessee Constitution. With their radical pro-abortion ruling favoring Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, activist judges made clear that efforts by the people and our elected officials to “infringe” on this new right would not be tolerated.

So now we find ourselves facing the most significant and expensive abortion vote ever in Tennessee to nullify the Court’s terrible ruling and restore the rights of Tennesseans to have a voice in abortion policy and regulation.

Equally important is the matter of judges who place their policy preferences over those of the people. The opportunity to “replace” Justices Clark, Lee and Wade sends a strong message that we expect our judges to interpret the Constitution, not re-write it. Each was appointed by a pro-abortion Governor and enjoys the support of a pro-abortion establishment actively working to defeat pro-life Amendment 1.

For members seeking direction from Tennessee Right to Life PAC as to how your votes can best serve the cause of Life and the unborn in our state, we respectfully urge your votes to REPLACE Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.

Toward that Goal,

Brian Harris, President
Tennessee Right to Life

Alexander Kicks Off ‘Little Plaid Blog’ to Chronicle TN Bus Tour

Press release from the Campaign for Lamar Alexander for U.S. Senate; July 25, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Lamar Alexander today announced the launch of his “Little Plaid Blog” where he will chronicle his 35-stop bus tour across Tennessee. He released the following statement:

“When I walked across Tennessee in my campaign for governor, I met Tennesseans who I still know and who still help me provide Washington with a steady supply of common sense. On my two-week, 35-stop bus tour I will continue my travels across the state, seeing old friends and making new ones – and I’d like to share this time with you.

“Starting today, I welcome you to Lamar Alexander’s Little Plaid Blog, where I’ll record the people, events and doses of Tennessee common sense that I come across on my bus tour. I’ll share photos, videos, news from the road and thoughts on what Tennessee has to teach Washington about how to follow conservative principles and solve our country’s biggest challenges.”

Go to www.lamaralexander.com to follow the “Little Plaid Blog.”

The tour builds on the rest of the efforts by Alexander’s campaign for re-election, which include a TV ad showing Alexander sparring with President Obama over Obamacare; a TV ad about Alexander fighting against the Obama administration acting like a de facto national school board; endorsement ads by former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson and former presidential candidate and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; and a series of radio ads featuring community leaders across Tennessee.

Read about and watch the Obamacare ad here.

Read about and watch the education ad here.

Read about and watch the Thompson ad here.

Read about and watch the Huckabee ad here.

Read about and listen to the radio ads here.

The Alexander campaign is chaired by Congressman Jimmy Duncan, with co-chairmen Governor Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Speaker Beth Harwell, as well as Congressmen Blackburn, Roe, Black, Fincher, and Fleischmann.

The campaign’s Honorary Co-Chairmen include former U.S. Senators Howard Baker (1925-2014), Bill Brock, Bill Frist and Fred Thompson, as well as former Governors Winfield Dunn and Don Sundquist.Serving as Honorary Co-Chairs of the Statewide Committee to Elect Lamar Alexander are all 13 living former state Republican Party chairs.

TN Forum: Congrats to Supreme Court Justices on Endorsement by Davidson Co Dems

Press release from The Tennessee Forum; July 24, 2014: 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Forum President Susan Kaestner congratulated Democrat Supreme Court Justices Connie Clark, Sharon Lee, and Gary Wade on their endorsement by the Davidson County Democrat Party today. In an email to Democrat party activists and supporters, Gary D. Bynum, Chairman of the Davidson County Democrat Party, said, “Remember when Democrats don’t vote, Republicans are elected and we ALWAYS support the Democratic ticket…Vote to “RETAIN” the current Supreme Court on August 7.” A copy of the email can be viewed HERE.

“I congratulate Justices Clark, Lee and Wade on earning the support of their base – the liberal left of the Democrat Party,” Kaestner said. “It should not be surprising that Democrats would endorse the judges given that they are, in fact, Democrats. Chairman Bynum makes clear that Clark, Lee and Wade are key components of the ‘Democrat ticket’ for voters to consider this August.”

“Partisanship is nothing new for Clark, Lee and Wade,” Kaestner said. “They earned the respect of their friends in the Democrat party by being ultra-partisan activists and donors throughout their judicial career, despite claims to the contrary.”

A review of campaign finance records by the Tennessee Forum reveals a strong pattern of partisan behavior by all three Supreme Court judges up for retention this August. The political contribution histories of Judges Clark, Wade and Lee directly contradict the public mythology perpetrated by the judges and their Democrat operatives that they are “nonpartisan.”

“The judges’ political contributions put in perspective the level of deception they are peddling to the people of Tennessee,” said Kaestner. “The judges can masquerade as apolitical, but the facts are the facts. Normal Tennessee citizens go to work, raise families and go to the polls on election day. They do not consistently and generously give large amounts of money to Democrat candidates. There is a term for people who do that: Partisan Democrat.”

Records show that Clark has given a total of $5,435 to political candidates over the years. 80% of those donations have gone to Democrats, including former Democratic Senate Speaker John Wilder, former Senate Democrat Caucus Chairman Joe Haynes and former state Representative Rob Briley. The candidate receiving the largest total contributions from Clark was former Democrat Governor Phil Bredesen. Bredesen appointed Clark to the Supreme Court in 2005.

Clark’s partisan roots transcend her donation record as well. She was elected to the Tennessee Democrat Party Executive Committee, the most partisan and highest ranking political organization one can be a part of at the state level. As a member of the state Democrat Executive Committee, Clark helped set policy, elect the party’s chairman, and worked to elect Democrat candidates across the state.

Wade, the largest political contributor of the three judges, has donated over 70% of his money to Democrat candidates. Wade’s political contributions total at least $27,311 and include former Vice President Al Gore, Harold Ford, Jr., current Democrat Party chair Roy Herron and the Democratic National Committee. Wade also gave at least $3,000 to former Democrat Governor Phil Bredesen. Bredesen appointed Wade to the Supreme Court in 2006.

Publicly available campaign finance records indicate Lee is the most partisan of the three. She gave over $8,000, 92% of which went to Democrats. Recipients of Lee’s political generosity include Harold Ford, Jr., 2010 Democrat gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter, current Democrat Party chair Roy Herron and ActBlue. Lee joined her two colleagues in supporting the Democrat Governor who appointed them. She gave Bredesen’s campaign over $3,000. She was later appointed to the Supreme Court in 2008 — by Phil Bredesen.

“These records are public and searchable by anyone with an internet connection. The judges don’t want voters to know their entire campaign is predicated on deception,” said Kaestner. “These judges are candidates for the highest court in the state and they are denying basic truths about their political history.”

“Ironically, their campaign is an argument for replacement. If you truly want nonpartisan judges on the Supreme Court of Tennessee your only choice is to vote ‘replace’ on Judges Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.”

The general public can search databases of state and federal political contributions free of charge at http://www.fec.gov and http://www.tn.gov/tref.

Dems Claim Victory in Defeat of Campaign Finance Bill

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; April 18, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democrats were joined by 13 Republicans and one Independent Republican in voting against legislation by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada to change corporate contribution laws. The bill failed 48-41 after nearly an hour of debate.

“The people of Tennessee don’t want this because they know that money corrupts,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. During the debate on the legislation, Chairman Turner implored his Republican colleagues to side with the people and vote against the bill.

HB643 would have nearly tripled the amount of money political parties and caucuses could give to state candidates. It also removed the requirement that corporations register as PACs. Additionally, the bill would have allowed insurance companies to contribute to political candidates.

Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga) warned that allowing insurance companies to give to candidates during our current health care debate would “give the appearance of being unethical.”

Having failed to receive a majority, the bill now moves back to the Calendar and Rules Committee.
Roll call of the vote available here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/136545701/Roll-Call-on-HB643-by-Casada

Forrester: DesJarlais Should Step Down

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester on Monday called on embattled US Rep. Scott DesJarlais to resign, saying the Republican Congressman “ran his medical practice like a Craigslist cathouse.”

Forrester’s comments came in the wake of news reports this weekend from the Chattanooga Times Free Press that a second woman has come forward to say that DesJarlais, a physician, had a sexual relationship with her while she was under his medical care.

From the Times Free Press:

The second woman described DesJarlais as “the nicest guy” and said he cooked dinner for her at their first get-together in 2000.

But she also said they smoked marijuana during their relationship and remembered DesJarlais prescribing her pain medication on dates at his home.

Also speaking at the conference was Ronald Wilson, a Brentwood neurologist, who the Tennessee Democratic Party asked to attend.

“Anything that is less than providing good health care to our patients is regrettable,” Wilson said.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@TNReport.com on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

TFA: Demand General Assembly Take Accountability for Maggart ‘Lies, Bullying’

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; July 27, 2012: 

This is the entire body of message that went to all legislators in Tennessee this morning. Call your legislators now and reinforce this message. Demand that they speak out publicly against Maggart’s lies and bullying. DO NOT let them tell you that they want to “stay out of it” – they are elected officials and sometimes that means demanding publicly ethical conduct of their peers.

The Tennessee Firearms Association has taken a position on Debra Maggart and focused our attention and resources on her as an example of what is wrong with the General Assembly.

All legislators have some, and in some instances for those who have publicly endorsed her a significant degree of, accountability for the actions of Debra Maggart. She is a selected leader of the Republican caucus. She is a legislator and is subject to ethics charges. She is causing great concern to arise regarding whether the entire legislature is nothing but a cesspool of people more concerned about being re-elected than representing the people with the honor and truthfulness of a steward. It is your opportunity and obligation to demonstrate to the people of this state that you do not stand with or condone lying and unethical legislators and that you will speak the truth to condemn misconduct of those in public office.

TFA is demanding that each legislator take action to stop Debra Maggart. She is engaged in inappropriate and unethical conduct in her campaign. She needs to be told to immediately stop and apologize. That demand needs to be made public so that there is no question who stood for truth and who stands with or even silently tolerates a liar. There is no setting on the sidelines as a spectator for an elected official who lies and abuses her position of power. You either condemn this action or your inaction signals your willing acceptance of it.

Each legislator has the ability to bring ethics charges against Debra Maggart.

Each legislator has the ability to stand up and publicly renounce the intentional lies and misrepresentations of Debra Maggart.

Each legislator has the ability to tell the lobbyists that they do not have to submit to Debra Maggart’s demands for support in her campaign or risk retaliation.

Each legislator’s actions or inactions will be measured in the public dialogue.

So, what are the problems that demand your involvement – NOW?

1. Debra Maggart is using her legislative telephone number on her campaign advertising. It can be inferred that by doing so she is using her legislative office phone services, office supplies and state paid staff in her re-election campaign. This may be a criminal violation and if not it should be. This certainly should be an ethics violation and should be prosecuted with an ethics complaint of the most harsh degree. This absolutely is wrong and she should be publicly chastised by her legislative peers for her gross misconduct.

This is what she is using as a campaign footer:
© Debra Young Maggart | State Representative 45th District
112 La Bar Dr. Hendersonville, TN 37075 | 615-741-3893
Paid for by Debra Maggart for State Representative; Debra Maggart, Treasurer
This email was sent to xxx@xxx.com. To ensure that you continue receiving our emails, please add us to your address book or safe list.
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Is Debra also using her legislative budget to pay for this email service? Who knows. However, are you willing as elected officials to be accountable to your constituents for letting another legislator use state paid resources – including staff – in her re-election campaign? Your actions – including your silence – will answer that question in the next few days.

2. Debra Maggart is intentionally lying to the public about the candidate disclosure form. It is an intentional misrepresentation by Maggart and should be condemned.

The facts are simple. Candidates for office must fill out a disclosure form (the state SS-8004). One question on the form asks:

Bankruptcy – List any adjudication of bankruptcy or discharge received in any United States district court within five (5) years of the date of this report.

Lt. Col. Rogers answered “none” to that question. That was truthful and accurate answer.

Rogers and her husband did file bankruptcy following a failed business effort after retiring from the military. The Rogers chapter 7 bankruptcy according to the Court’s records, was opened on 3/2/05. They were discharged on 6/15/05 but the court appointed bankruptcy trustee did not conclude the administration of the estate and close it until 7/28/08. Those are specific and federally defined terms.

Rogers’ discharge is indisputably on March 2, 2005. Roger’s disclosure form is dated 3/19/12. Therefore, the relevant window regarding the bankruptcy question would be 3/19/07. Roger’s discharge was almost 2 years prior and clearly outside the five year window designated on the form so a “none” response was truthful and accurate.

Apparently, the state did not consider bankruptcies older than 5 years to be relevant because it specifically created the five year window . The question clearly requires the disclosure of any “discharge” which is a specific legal event under federal law not the date the estate was “closed”.

The date of a “discharge” is critical under 11 USC Secs 524 and 727 because it is that specific event and date which determines the rights and obligations of future creditors. The termination of prior claims as to the individuals granted the discharge and many other matters. The date a bankruptcy estate is closed has nothing to do with a discharge or even whether a discharge is ever granted.

TFA has the bankruptcy file and will email it to you if necessary to resolve the disagreement on the facts.

TNReport.com is one of the few news agencies that has actually reported on this story. Other news agencies have reported that Maggart was “shopping” the story but after looking into it they concluded it was not a factually reliable story. TNReport issued this story on July 9.

http://tnreport.com/blog/2012/07/09/bankruptcy-filing-haunts-challenger-to-maggart/

In it, they asked a Nashville bankruptcy attorney, Ed Rothschild to review the matter for them. This is the quote from the story:

But a Nashville bankruptcy attorney questioned whether the chain of events in Rogers’ case met the five-year test.
The late closing of the case had nothing to do with the actual ruling and liquidation, which was finished by 2005, says Edgar Rothschild, who was not involved in the case and reviewed the documents at the request of TNReport.
“I see nothing unusual about the fact that it was opened in 2005 and not closed until 2008,” he said. “The fact that the trustee took so long moving his paperwork along and disposing of the assets had nothing to do with the debtors. There is nothing in the report which indicated that the debtors did anything questionable.”

The fact is clear that what Debra Maggart is using as her primary negative attack on Lt. Col. Rogers is intentionally and knowingly false. Perhaps, it is perhaps possible that Maggart is too illiterate to know the difference – but let her make that excuse. In either event, she apparently hopes that the citizens will not learn or know the truth until its too late to make a difference.

Maggart has tried to make a big issue out of this. In response, the Rogers campaign has already asked elected members of the General Assembly to “sanction their own”. It is sad that apparently none of you have publicly done so at this point. That is sad because your silence turns your back on and thereby condones intentional lies by Maggart. Are you willing to tolerate that kind of deceitful and unethical misconduct?

3. Debra Maggart has taken on the NRA and is now lying about her record. Debra Maggart has put out a campaign ad that claims:

– Debra Maggart has consistently been given an A+ rating by the NRA—the highest rating possible on gun rights.

While Debra claims – as do most of you – that the NRA is the leading entity for giving endorsements on 2nd Amendment issues, Debra misleads the public by claiming she has an “A+” rating when in fact she received a “D” from the NRA this year. That is a clear and undeniable lie. Are you willing to tolerate that kind of deceitful and unethical misconduct regarding what is normally a cherished NRA endorsement?

4. Debra Maggart is falsely claiming that Lt. Col. Rogers is running a “negative campaign”. While it is true that the NRA and the TFA are negative on Maggart, Lt. Col. Rogers is not attacking Maggart other than discussing specific votes and specific bills.

5. Debra Maggart is misusing her campaign funds. In the Summer of 2011, Maggart and 14 other members of the TN General Assembly made a trip to China (http://www.memphisdailynews.com/editorial/Article.aspx?id=61517).

Debra Maggart apparently saw fit to reimburse herself for luggage for that trip from her Campaign Finance Account. If you go to https://apps.tn.gov/tncamp-app/public/cpsearch.htm you can enter the last name of a candidate and access the candidate’s campaign finance reports. If you access Rep. Maggart’s “Early Mid Year Supplemental (2011)” report you will find an entry for the reimbursement of a $431.54 “Travel Expense” she paid to Mori Luggage in Nashville. The entry is dated 2/28/2011. Tennessee statutes prohibit the use of campaign funds for the personal use of a candidate.

Also of interest in that same report is an entry for the purchase of $2,084.15 in furniture from C.W. Sanderson, Kenton, TN. The entry indicates the reimbursement to Rep. Maggart is for “Legislative Office Furniture.” Since the State of Tennessee provides furniture for her Nashville office one must assume the purchase was for her “home office.”

That report also includes two entries to Home Depot for “Legislative Office Paint” and several entries for “Office Supplies.” All these entries should be viewed with the understanding that the State of Tennessee provides a $1,000 a month to you as members of the General Assembly to offset expenses involved in maintaining an office in their home district.

Debra Maggart is trying to twist the arms of legislators to support her campaign. Do not fall for it. Debra Maggart and perhaps others have made their bed by selling out constitutional rights and getting in bed with Federal Express and its conspirators. When her campaign reports are filed, those who support her with money will be on public record.

TFA is asking you now to stand up and be good stewards. Do not allow your inaction on these issues to signal to the public that you condone Debra Maggart’s conduct. Hold her accountable for her actions. Hold her accountable openly and in the public square and discourse.

Governor Gearing Up to Help Favored GOP Candidates

Besides being a time to remember fallen soldiers, reopen swimming pools and enjoy a long weekend, Memorial Day also represents the unofficial start of campaign season.

Gov. Bill Haslam says he’ll lend some of this clout this year to Republican lawmakers in legislative races who have helped advance his agenda.

“Obviously I’ll be a lot more active this fall in Republican races. I’ll also be a lot more active for folks that have worked really hard for us,” Haslam told reporters after a Memorial Day ceremony on Capitol Hill.

So, who is on that list?

“We haven’t gotten there, yet,” Haslam said, but added he doesn’t see himself pitching in on Democratic races for friendly Democrats.

Haslam’s support “will mainly be going to events and help,” he said, although the he did not rule out making political contributions.

So far, Haslam said he’s been to a campaign event for state Rep. Ryan Williams, a freshman legislator running against Democrat Thomas D. Willoughby, both of Cookeville. Haslam said he’s also planning to attend an event for House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery who is facing off against Dale Carr in the Republican primary election. Both are from Sevierville.

Haslam says he hasn’t sat down to figure out which races he’ll be helping, but said he didn’t think he’d be involved in races for open seats.

Kleinheider Infraction ‘Handled Internally’

The spokesman for Tennessee’s lieutenant governor committed what may have been an illegal act last month when he blasted off an official government press release touting his boss’s GOP presidential primary favorite.

Even though his admitted lapse in judgment was reported in the media, the staffer didn’t get in much, if any trouble for it, at least according to records obtained by TNReport Tuesday.

Adam Kleinheider, who serves as communications director for Tennessee’s most powerful state senator, Speaker Ron Ramsey, is the only legislative employee in recent memory to be publicly identified for doing political work with state resources, according to Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration. She said the matter was “handled internally” by Ramsey’s office.

Kleinheider’s government personnel file, kept by the Office of Legislative Administration, does not include any reference to disciplinary action taken against him. Requests through Ramsey’s office for records, emails and correspondence pertaining to Kleinheider’s punishment or reprimand came up empty, although internal legislative office correspondence is not subject to the same Tennessee open-records standards as executive-branch communications.

The Aug. 10 press release featured the lieutenant governor issuing “a strong statement of support” for Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was then on the cusp of announcing his bid to seek his party’s presidential nomination in 2012. The release, sent from Kleinheider’s state government email address, named Kleinheider himself as the point man for questions, with his state office phone number provided as a contact.

“I believe Gov. Perry to be the man best suited to lead this fight,” Ramsey was quoted as saying in the press release. “If (Perry) sees fit to make the decision many expect him to, I let him know today that I’ll be there to support him in any way I can.”

Kleinheider, once a popular blogger and highly regarded news-aggregation website operator, took a job in the Senate speaker’s office this past February.

He told the Knoxville News Sentinel that sending out the pro-Perry news release from a government account “was a disregard of policy on my part and unintentional. … I’m still semi-new at this.”

He added he was on break when he wrote the release. Kleinheider’s time sheet for Aug. 10 indicates he clocked out at 2 p.m. The press release was emailed at 3:10 pm.

Kleinheider refused requests for additional comment and declined to detail any disciplinary action taken against him and instead referred to his statement in the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Other legislative staffers privately tell TNReport they’re constantly faced with decisions about whether the messages the government is paying them to send on behalf of their elected bosses are too political to be sent through state email accounts or written while on the clock or using government equipment or facilities.

“We try to make that very clear — that this is not something they should be doing on state time,” said Ridley, who did not release details of any punishment or reprimand Kleinheider may have received. “This is the only one (instance) that I’ve been aware of as it relates to political activity.”

Most lawmakers with whom TNReport has inquired about the matter say Kleinheider’s decision to send an apparent campaign endorsement as an official state news release is pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things — not something for which he probably ought to be fined, fired or incarcerated.

“When we’ve done it, they’ve criticized us tremendously for it. But we’ve got bigger fish to fry up here,” said Rep. Mike Turner, an Old Hickory Democrat and the minority caucus chairman in the House. “We’ve got people out of work. We’ve got things happening, and I’m not going to be petty and get on them about that.”

A former House Democratic spokesman did the same thing when he sent out a campaign email from his work account several years ago, Turner said, although the employee was never disciplined.

Nevertheless, sending those emails is still against the law, and there ought to be enough consequences to discourage it, said Dick Williams, chairman for Common Cause Tennessee.

“It just adds to the public cynicism that public officials can misuse their office,” said Williams, a longtime lobbyist at the Capitol. “Obviously, it doesn’t rise to the stature of a bribe or conflict of interest or anything, but it’s not a totally meaningless offense.”

Using state resources for political purposes falls under the “Little Hatch Act,” a Tennessee law passed in 1972, shortly after Winfield Dunn became Tennessee’s first Republican governor in 50 years. The motivation wasn’t to stop workers from doing political work on the job, but to prevent the GOP from replacing Democratic Party loyalists in state jobs with Republicans, said Larry Daughtrey, a retired Tennessean reporter who was stationed on Capitol Hill at the time.

State code 2-19-207 says: “It is unlawful for any person employed by the state to… perform political duties or functions of any kind not directly a part of such person’s employment, during those hours of the day when such person is required by law or administrative regulation to be conducting the business of the state.”

Those hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Ridley said. Nowhere in Kleinheider’s job description does it say he has to pen and ship out election-related emails.

Violating the statute is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable with as much as a 30-day jail sentence, up to a $50 fine, or both, according to Ridley.

The department doesn’t have to sit on its heels waiting for complaints and can investigate suspicions of abuse independently of a formal query. Officials just haven’t had reason to, she said.

“There’s no trigger. It’s the policy,” said Ridley. “If we find out about it, we go after it.”

In 1939, Congress passed the original “Hatch Act” banning federal government employees from using their offices to bolster political campaigns. At the time, officials in Tennessee and other states had been known to pressure federal workers to assist in Democrats’ election campaigns.

Almost any communication coming out of lawmakers’ offices tends to come off looking “political,” whether they’re taking credit for a bill or bashing a rival’s policy stance.

Tax-supported self-congratulations, back-patting or backbiting in news releases or legislative mail pieces are mostly tolerated, provided they include obvious Tennessee state-government connections.

In fact, taxpayers spent more than $180,000 sending direct mail to voters in lawmakers’ districts between October 2009 and the 2010 primary election, according to the Tennessean.

About $77,000 of that was spent on mailers shipped out just after the end of the 2010 legislative session, many times by lawmakers facing re-election bids later that year. This spring, Republicans killed a measure looking to curb that practice, saying it was “just another Democratic initiative.”

“It’s a difficult line because we’re involved not only in policy but also politics,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican. “We clearly want to be public servants, and we understand the difference between elections and the political process and then service and what we do here in the governing level.”

McWherter: Polls May Come Back To Bite Haslam

Both candidates for governor spent the eve of the election swinging through the state for last-minute campaign stops to shake hands, knock on doors and make final appeals to fence-sitting voters before the polls open tomorrow.

Democrat Mike McWherter says he’s feeling good about his chances, even though he’s 29 points behind Republican Bill Haslam in the polls.

Here’s what he said during a stop at his Nashville campaign headquarters Monday: