Featured Transparency and Elections

Plumbers’ Union Lets Campaign Cash Flow, Racks Up $400K Debt

One of the most politically active labor unions in Tennessee is doubling down on the election this year, doling out more campaign cash than it did in 2010 or 2008, even as other unions have cut back on their political giving.

The Plumbers & Pipefitters Education Committee — the Tennessee union’s political arm — has given out $278,300 in campaign contributions so far in 2012, records show. That already has surpassed the $270,100 the union gave during the 2010 election season and the $245,440 it provided to politicians in 2008.

The Plumbers & Pipefitters union has even taken out hundreds of thousands dollars in loans — largely from Farmers & Merchants Bank — apparently to underwrite the union’s political payouts.

Records show the union’s political action committee has an outstanding loan balance of $398,971. Records show the committee taking out loans steadily for years. The last bank loan was for $70,000 received Oct. 12.

It’s unclear what this nearly $400,000 debt will mean for the union’s members.

And the election isn’t over yet. The campaign finance reports for the crucial last days have yet to be filed, so it’s all but certain that the Plumbers & Pipefitters will have far exceeded $300,000 in political giving by Election Day.

Spending more money on candidates this year was not deliberate, said former Secretary of State Riley Darnell, who serves as the union’s political adviser. There are simply more campaigns this year that the union has an interest in.

“We have a lot of candidates in support of working people,” Darnell said. “The need was greater.”

As far as the bank debt, Darnell said he couldn’t comment and that decisions such as taking out loans are made by internal union officials.

Plumbers & Pipefitters has long been one of the biggest political unions on Tennessee’s Capitol hill, frequently cutting five-figure checks to the state Democratic Party and giving large contributions to union-friendly candidates such as former state Sen. Jim Lewis, a Democrat running for a state Senate seat in District 16, which encompasses Marion, Warren and Coffee counties, and Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan, a former Democratic House majority leader.

The plumbers are priming the political pump as other labor unions in Tennessee have curtailed their campaign donations.


The Tennessee, later known as Mid-South, Carpenters Regional Council political action committee, for example, doled out $68,700 in campaign contributions in 2010. In 2012 that number has dropped to $28,960.

Tennessee’s International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers political action committee spread around $102,500 in campaign cash in 2010. This year, its campaign contributions are $80,700.

And the Tennessee Laborers PAC handed out $73,000 politicians in 2010. In 2012 that has shrunk to $45,500.

You can see the details of the Plumbers & Pipefitters campaign records, as well as all Tennessee campaign finance reports, by clicking here and using the state’s online search database.

The vast majority of union giving is aimed at Democrats and Democratic causes, though some union money is starting to trickle to Republicans. The carpenters union, for example, gave $500 to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s political action committee as well as $2,500 to the Tennessee Republican Caucus. The Laborers gave donations to Gov. BIll Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell’s PAC and state Sen. Jim Tracy from Shelbyville.

The Plumbers & Pipefitters’ giving has heavily favored Democrats.

The union’s escalation in campaign spending comes at a time when public employee unions in Tennessee are facing an increasingly hostile legislature. With Republicans controlling the governor’s mansion and both houses, unions have few seats at the bargaining table.

During the the 2011 legislative session, the Legislature passed efforts to curb union influence in state government and schools. Democratic state lawmakers reacted angrily, but they didn’t have the votes to thwart the measures.

Tennessee isn’t the only place where a union is placing big bets for Election Day.

In Michigan, not only are unions are working toward setting collective bargaining privileges in stone via a provision in the state Constitution, they are also trying to unseat a pair of conservative Justices on the state Supreme Court.

And nationally, the Service Employees International Union has emerged as the top outside spender on Democratic campaigns this year, surpassing even President Barack Obama’s main super PAC.

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


Ramsey: Signs Pointing Toward GOP Supermajority in Senate

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”][/youtube]

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
says that come Election Day, Republicans will enjoy a supermajority in the Tennessee Senate — meaning that the GOP will not need any Democratic support to pass legislation.

“I do think we’re going to have the supermajority,” Ramsey told TNReport. “There are six seats we’re playing in, and none of us as incumbent Republicans have serious opposition. This is the first time I’ve ever run without an opponent.”

Republicans need to win two more seats to snag the supermajority, or 22 of the 33 seats.

And if money talks, Ramsey may be right. GOP candidates for state Senate have a massive financial lead going into the final days of their campaigns, according to campaign finance reports released by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

The reports released this week show Republican Senate candidates with a more than 2-to-1 lead in terms of cash on hand. And when you add up the total amount of money raised in contested races, Republicans have outraised Democrats $1.8 million to $861,000 since Jan. 1, records show.

You can search all of the filings by clicking here.

Perhaps more telling is the amount of money spent in the past two months, which is what the most recent campaign finance reports show.

Of the six key races that Ramsey spoke of, Republicans have spent $384,041 and Democrats have spent $253,451, according to those filings.

That’s money that goes for newspaper and radio ads, campaign workers, mailings, food and gas to fill up the gas tank.

In only one of those races did the Democrat outspend his opponent. That was the race in Senate District 24, a West Tennessee district that spans from Obion County to Benton County.

In that race, Democrat Brad Thompson spent $111,372 over the past two months. His Republican opponent John Stevens spent $62,932 over that same period.

Most of the six races, though, more closely resemble the contest in Senate District 20, a district that surrounds downtown Nashville like a letter “C” spanning from Belle Meade to Goodlettsville. Republican Steve Dickerson plowed $54,941 into the race over the past two months. His opponent, Democrat Phillip North, spent $28,028 over that same period.

“I do think there will be significant gains,” Ramsey said. “Somewhere between two (Senate seats) to five or six.”

This is not the first time that Ramsey has been talking about a possible supermajority. Check out what he told the Nashville Scene and

Other Senate seats identified as being in play include:

Education Featured News

Education Progress Report: Incomplete

Lawmakers have spent much of the year squabbling over education overhauls for how school systems, teachers and their unions operate in Tennessee.

Democrats and leaders with the state’s largest teachers’ union are fighting the GOP-driven proposals but lack the political muscle to pose a serious threat to Republicans who control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office.

Republicans have picked up some education bills and dropped others like hot potatoes. Some of those lawmakers have splintered off and opposed prime education reform bills, thickening the political plot as the legislation inches closer to passage.

Meanwhile, officials with the Tennessee Education Association say teachers feel beat up by this year’s line-up of bills targeting them and their profession.

Here’s a progress report on where the key education bills are in the legislative process:

Leaders Say They’re Done Bargaining Over Collective Bargaining (SB113/HB130):

After four substantial rewrites, the newest version of a bill to do away with teachers’ collective bargaining privileges is now facing a vote on the Senate floor. House Speaker Beth Harwell and House sponsor Debra Maggart — who originally sided with Gov. Bill Haslam in favoring a scaled-back collective bargaining bill — now say they’re both happy with the latest version because it melds drafts from the two chambers and completely bans unions from negotiating teachers’ contracts. Haslam has yet to weigh in on the newest version. The Senate passed the bill on Monday, 18-14.

Teacher Tenure Revamped (SB1528/HB:2012):

Check this one off the list. Haslam signed into law a series of changes to teacher tenure, chiefly by giving schools the ability to take away tenure from under-performing teachers as defined by a new evaluation system. Democrats said they generally agreed with the bill but bitterly fought to delay its implementation until schools can give the newly designed teacher evaluations a test run. Republicans forged ahead anyway and the bill will kick in for the next school year.

Charter School Expansion A Slow Grower (HB1989/SB1523): Haslam is a huge proponent for charter school expansion, but his plan to open up enrollment and lift the cap on the number of charter schools is moving slowly through the Legislature. When we last left this bill, both versions had made their way out of the education committees, however they still face the two Finance Ways and Means committees, scheduling committees, then votes on the chamber floors.

Vouchers Go To Summer School (SB485/HB388): This bill went largely unnoticed until it landed on the Senate floor last week and narrowly won a majority vote. The bill would allow students to switch to a private, parochial, charter or another public school via a state-issued scholarship. Less than a week later, House Republicans kicked the bill into a summer study committee, essentially killing the measure for the rest of the year.

Managing the Memphis Merger (SB25/HB51): The Legislature kicked off this legislative session by passing a bill slowing down the merger between the Memphis City Schools system and Shelby County Schools after Memphis officials decided to disband the district. Democrats loathed it, Republicans loved it, and Haslam has already signed it into law.

Dues Deduction Dead, For Now (HB159/SB136): On top of pushing bills attempting to marginalize the Tennessee Education Association, Republicans also attempted to ban teachers’ automatic payroll deductions to pay their union dues. There’s not enough time to push that bill this year, according to Rep. Glen Casada, who was carrying the bill. The Franklin Republican said he missed the deadline to take up the bill in a subcommittee but vows to bring the measure up again next year.

Political Contribution Confusion (HB160/SB139): A proposal pitched earlier this year that would have banned unions — like the TEA — from giving money to political candidates has since morphed into a bill that allows corporate campaign giving. Casada, who is sponsoring this bill, too, said he backed off the original plan in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a federal ban on corporate contributions. Instead of imposing a ban on unions, like he originally planned, he wants to lift restrictions on corporate giving and allow legislators and the governor to accept political contributions during the legislative session. That measure is still making its way through House and Senate legislative committees.

TEA Serving on Retirement Board (SB102/ HB565): A measure to take away the Tennessee Education Association’s guaranteed seat on the state’s Consolidated Retirement Board has already passed the Senate and is on its way through the House. Like many other education bills, the Senate vote fell on party lines. The measure allows the Senate and House speakers to appoint any teacher they want to the board, regardless of his or her union affiliation.

NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Haslam Camp Spent $16.7 Million On Election

The tally is in, and it shows Gov. Bill Haslam spent $16.7 million in his gubernatorial campaign and has about $630,000 cash on hand, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

Democratic Mike McWherter spent about $3.4 million in his failed bid to win the governorship.

The campaign still owes Haslam a tidy sum: almost $3.5 million. At a press conference in Nashville Wednesday, Haslam said he did not yet have a plan for the campaign paying him back.

“Once all the dust clears from everything, we can sit down and look at that, and we’ll decide if we’ll start paying ourselves back or if we’ll just leave that debt,” Haslam said.

Haslam said he had no regrets about the costs of the campaign and emphasized the number of people who contributed. “A record number of people financially contributed to our campaign – numbers of individuals,” he said. “I think that speaks volumes.”

More reading: The Chattanooga Times Free-Press



Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey may not be running for governor anymore, but he’s still keeping his campaign-finance fingers in electoral pies all across the state of Tennessee.

The former GOP contender for governor divided $14,000 between House and Senate Republican candidates over the last few months in an effort to lock down his party’s majority in both chambers.

Republicans are hopping to widen the the House’s 50-48 majority and establish solid control of the chamber after narrowly losing the speaker’s office to Kent Williams, a Republican gone independent after he was voted leader in 2008 with mostly Democrat support. The GOP has solid control of the Senate with a 19-14 majority.

“I daresay I’m the only senator that’s actually mailed money to practically every challenger in the state of Tennessee,” he told TNReport last week. “I’ll assure you, I sent out more checks yesterday.”

His philosophy? “This year, in 2010, if a Republican is within the margin of error, then they’ll probably really win.”

Here’s a list of House Republican candidates he said he’s supporting:

  • David Alexander, running against incumbent Rep. George Fraley.
  • Shelia Butt, running against incumbent Rep. Ty Cobb in 64th District.
  • Duane Dominy, running against incumbent Rep. Sherry Jones.
  • Jim Gotto, against Sam Coleman for Democratic Rep. Ben West’s vacated seat.
  • Don Miller, running against Larry Mullins for Democratic Rep. John Litz’s vacated seat.
  • Dennis Powers, running against Keith Clotfelter in Rep. Chad Faulkner’s lost Republican seat.
  • Bill Sanderson, running against incumbent Rep. Judy Barker.
  • Art Swan, running against Marvin Pratt for Republican Rep. Joe McCord’s vacated seat
  • Ryan Williams, running against incumbent Rep. Henry D. Fincher.
  • Charles Williamson, running against caucus chairman and incumbent Rep. Mike Turner.
  • Tim Wirgau, running against incumbent Rep. Willie “Butch” Borchert.

And here are the people he didn’t mention, but to whom he sent checks between July and September, according to campaign finance reports:

  • Sen. Mae Beavers, running against George McDonald.
  • Rep. Stacey Campfield, running against Randy Walker for state Senate.
  • Sen. Bill Ketron, running against Debbie Matthews.
  • Rep. Jon Lundberg, who is running unopposed.
  • Don McLeary, running against incumbent Rep. Lowe Finney.
  • Rep. Tony Shipley, running against Nathan Vaughn.
  • Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, running against James C. Hale.
Press Releases

Haslam Raises More than $8.7M

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor; July 13, 2010:

NASHVILLE – The generosity and support from thousands of Tennesseans puts Republican gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam in the strongest position heading into the Early Voting period.

Disclosure filings from Haslam’s campaign show the successful two-term Mayor of Knoxville raised $1.7 million from 3,075 contributions during April, May and June with voters identifying Haslam and his leadership experience, proven record of success and temperament as best to lead Tennessee.

“Crissy and I are grateful for all of the support we’ve received from all 95 counties in this campaign,” Haslam said. “We’ve planned our work and are working our plan. And the generosity we’ve seen on this campaign puts us exactly in the position we wanted to be in at this stage of the campaign.”

Haslam has worked hard campaigning across the state with his wife Crissy during the past 18 months, and voters are drawn to his common-sense solutions to the state’s challenges.

The growth in support is reflected in three recent polls showing Bill Haslam as the strongest GOP contender in the field as well as the state’s three largest newspapers endorsing Haslam as the candidate with the maturity and experience to be Tennessee’s next governor.

“We have organizers in every county, and we’re prepared for the early voting period that begins this Friday,” said Mark Cate, Campaign Manager. “Since March, Bill Haslam has laid out clear, common-sense solutions for job creation, budget management and strengthening education that are put together in his Jobs4TN plan, and in these polls and other indications of support you’re seeing the cumulative effect of his hard work and dedication to serving Tennessee.”

“To have the success Bill Haslam has had on the trail is incredible during this political and economic climate,” said Kim Kaegi, Campaign Finance Director. “Tennesseans are overwhelmingly choosing him because of his ideas, his passion for serving Tennessee and most of all, his capacity to serve Tennessee as the chief executive of the state during these difficult times.”

Mayor Haslam is the two-term Republican Mayor of Knoxville, reelected in 2007 with 87 percent of the vote. A hardworking, conservative public servant, Haslam led Knoxville to become one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion, while reducing the city’s debt, tripling the rainy day fund, reducing the number of city employees to the lowest amount in 15 years and bringing property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years. An executive leader with a proven record of success, he helped grow his family’s small business from 800 employees into one of Tennessee’s largest companies with 14,000 employees.

For more information on Bill Haslam, please visit

Press Releases

Haslam Campaign Raises $8.7 Million

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor; July 1, 2010:

Two Weeks Until Early Voting, Halam Has Nearly 12,000 Contributions to His Campaign

KNOXVILLE – With roughly two weeks until early voting begins July 16, Republican gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam today posted a campaign fundraising total of more than $8.7 million from nearly 12,000 contributions.

Haslam raised more than $1.7 million, including a blitz that brought in more than $700,000 in the last two weeks of the reporting period that ended at midnight Wednesday. It is worth noting that Haslam’s fundraising total includes $3 million from supporters in Knox County; the individuals who know him best.

Accompanied with recent high profile endorsements from Reagan economist Dr. Art Laffer and UT men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl, a campaign organized in all 95 counties and two polls indicating Haslam is the strongest Republican in the GOP field, the announcement is yet another indication Haslam has the momentum with early voting beginning soon.

“Crissy and I have been very blessed to receive the support from so many Tennesseans, and with this support we’ll make sure we take the next step together and build a stronger Tennessee,” Haslam said. “We have two weeks until early voting and five weeks until the Primary, and I’m grateful that so many have helped put us in the strong position we’re in.”

“People are attracted to Bill Haslam’s real, common-sense solutions to Tennessee’s challenges and his proven record on their top concerns: job creation, strengthening education and budget management,” said Kim Kaegi, Haslam’s finance director. “They see him as the ‘Reagan Republican’ in this race, especially after Dr. Laffer’s endorsement.”

“It’s clear that Tennesseans are looking for a real leader with a proven track record of success both in the public and private sector,” said Mark Cate, Campaign Manager. “Our state faces some very tough challenges ahead, and there’s no question that Bill is the only candidate with the right experience and the right temperament to make the tough choices that will have to be made in these difficult times.”

Mayor Haslam is the two-term Republican Mayor of Knoxville, reelected in 2007 with 87 percent of the vote. A hardworking, conservative public servant, Haslam led Knoxville to become one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion, while reducing the city’s debt, tripling the rainy day fund, reducing the number of city employees to the lowest amount in 15 years and bringing property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years. An executive leader with a proven record of success, he helped grow his family’s small business from 800 employees into one of Tennessee’s largest companies with 14,000 employees. For more information on Bill Haslam, please visit

Press Releases

Legislature Approves Campaign Finance Transparency Bill

Press Release from Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; June 9, 2010:

Corporations Will be Required to Disclose Expenditures

NASHVILLE – A bill sponsored by State Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) requiring corporations to publicly disclose political financial contributions received final approval in the House on Tuesday.

“I’m proud that members of both parties came together and agreed that we need greater openness in our political system,” Finney said. “This legislation levels the playing field and ensures that anyone can find out how much corporations are spending on politics.”

The bill (Senate Bill 3198) will make corporations play by the same rules as political action committees and labor unions in publicly disclosing their political donations for independent expenditures.

Independent expenditures advocate or argue against a particular candidate without the consent of any other candidate. Current law prohibits direct contributions from corporations to candidates.

The legislation comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that it was unconstitutional to limit corporate independent expenditures. The state attorney general later opined that, under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, corporations could potentially keep such spending secret. Finney’s bill closes that loophole.

“When it comes to politics and money, there’s no room for secrecy,” Finney said. “Tennesseans have a right to know when corporations are spending money on politics instead of creating jobs for our citizens.”

The bill will now go to Gov. Phil Bredesen for his signature.

Press Releases

Haslam Reaches $7M In Campaign Funds

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor; April 5, 2010:

Mayor Has Financial Support in All of Tennessee’s 95 Counties From More Than 9,000 Contributions

KNOXVILLE – Republican gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam raised $1.3 million since January 15, 2010, an effort during the short 10-week quarter that put him over the $7 million mark in total contributions received since he began his campaign last year.

Haslam now has financial support in all 95 Tennessee counties from more than 9,000 contributions, indicative of the depth and breadth of support for his proven executive experience. He is the only major candidate who has not loaned his campaign money or given more than the individual limit.

“The broad-based financial support Bill Haslam has received is indicative of Tennesseans’ enthusiasm for his unique combination of successful private-sector and public-sector executive experience,” said Brad Martin, a member of Mayor Haslam’s Finance Team.

“Crissy and I have received incredible support out on the campaign trail, and the response to our statewide Jobs Tour really showed us that Tennesseans want their next governor to be someone with business experience balancing budgets and meeting payroll,” said Haslam, who continues to knock on neighborhood doors across Tennessee. “Our focus on making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs is resonating with Tennesseans all across the state.”

“Things are tough right now. Tennesseans need a Governor who can not only recruit new jobs but also support existing employers so they can expand their businesses right here in Tennessee,” said Pete DeLay, another member of Mayor Haslam’s Finance Team. “At the same time, our next Governor will be faced with the most challenging State budget in our generation. Bill Haslam’s record in both the private sector and as Mayor of Knoxville shows that he has the experience to meet these challenges.”

Bill Haslam is the two-term Mayor of Knoxville. A hardworking, conservative public servant, he led Knoxville to become one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion, while reducing the city’s debt, tripling the rainy day fund, and bringing property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years. An executive leader with a proven record of success, he helped grow his family’s small business from 800 employees into one of Tennessee’s largest companies with 14,000 employees. His combination of executive and public service experience makes him uniquely qualified to be Tennessee’s next Governor. Haslam is the right person at the right time to lead Tennessee.

Bill and Crissy Haslam have two daughters, Annie and Leigh, and a son, Will, who resides in Knoxville with his wife, Hannah.

For more information on Bill Haslam, please visit