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Press Releases

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.”

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Press Releases

TFA: State Using Tax Dollars to Suppress Rights?

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; May 25, 2012:

Are Taxpayer Dollars being used by government officials to suppress and infringe 2nd Amendment and other civil rights?

It is a serious question and can be a crime under some circumstances.

In Tennessee government, including the General Assembly, it is not uncommon to see evidence of situations where taxpayer dollars and even “charitable” contributions to government affiliated nonprofits are being used by lobbyists and in some instances government officials to advocate against the civil rights of citizens. For example, associations like the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police are comprised of voting members who are full time government officials. Presumably, those officials have their membership “dues” paid by their departments which clearly are funded with taxpayer dollars. When such an organization then uses taxpayer dollars to lobby against 2nd Amendment legislation or when those public officials go to the legislature in uniform to lobby while being paid by taxpayers (as opposed to taking vacation or personal time) are they engaging in a pattern of conduct that might be classified as “official oppression”? This potential raises serious questions about when, where and under what circumstances is it appropriate for public officials – who are not elected as policy makers like legislators – to spend time “on the clock” to lobby on policy issues that are based on fundamental constitutional rights of citizens?

A related issue was recently addressed by Jeff Knox in an article.

Cities around the country have created staff positions for professional lobbyists whose primary function is to drum up support for anti-gun legislation, ordinances and regulations. Part of these lobbyists salaries are being paid by grants from do-gooder foundations like the Joyce Foundation, but the balance of salaries, benefits and support costs are being borne by you, the taxpayer.

An associate of mine in Florida named Sean Caranna was doing some research for his grassroots rights organization, Florida Carry, Inc., when he came across something on the agenda of the Orlando City Council that he immediately recognized as a serious problem.

The item was for the renewal of a contract for a city employee. That’s mundane enough, but the job title of this particular employee was “Mayors Against Illegal Guns regional coordinator,” and the job description is to “play an integral role in the coordination and planning of gun crime prevention and illegal gun-related initiatives, events and media opportunities in the city and in the region” (the full council agenda and detailed information can be found on the City of Orlando website).

In the case of Orlando, the grant is $60,000 from something called the “United Against Illegal Guns Support Fund,” which appears to be a front group set up by billionaire mayor of New York City Mike Bloomberg – the creator of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The Joyce Foundation provides the primary funding for Bloomberg’s “support fund” to the tune of $650,000 in 2011 and at least $1,000,000 more in the previous 3 years.

While the grant to Orlando pays the bulk of the regional coordinator’s salary, the city is allocating $24,000 of citizen’s money to fund the position and providing other city resources and facilities for her use. The person tapped for the job is a woman who has worked as a regional coordinator for the Brady Campaign Against Guns, and as a professional lobbyist for MAIG and several other groups.

In essence, the city is paying $24,000 to have an anti-rights organization’s lobbyist working in their offices and pretending to be a city employee.

After discovering this scam in Orlando, Caranna began digging deeper and found similar sweetheart deals in several other cities around the country, including Seattle, Milwaukee, Columbus and Minneapolis. Based solely on the funding numbers from the Joyce Foundation, there should be at least 10 of these regional coordinators around the country – working against rights and being compensated in part by taxpayers.

Finding them all has proven to be a bit of a challenge, as no one from MAIG, Joyce or the Support Fund seems interested in advertising the coordinators’ existence. Caranna found, and my own research confirms, that some cities try to keep their participation in the scheme on the down low by using initials or euphemistic titles and job descriptions, but now that we know about the scam, I don’t think it will take long to expose most all of the pseudo-city employees. With more than a million and a half dollars granted to the project over the past 4 years by the Joyce Foundation alone, there has to be a money trail to follow. We also know all 600 mayors involved in MAIG and will be scouring the books of each of them looking for traces of this scheme.

I’m asking all of the members of The Firearms Coalition and all of my readers to help us locate these taxpayer funded anti-rights lobbyists. You can find a list of all of the participating mayors on the MAIG website and then launch your own investigation into any of them you choose.

While we’re at it, let’s look into this whole concept of private grants funding, and influencing, public policy. On its surface, the idea of a charitable group helping a municipality do some public service seems reasonable; a family group might support municipal preschool and after school programs, for instance. But if that group has a political agenda, or demands inclusion of a controversial curriculum, the “gift” becomes questionable.

From one side these grants look like a way for the charitable group to make their dollars go further while helping a city reach its goals, but it is also a way for a pressure group to get public funding for their agenda.

Imagine the uproar if a city created a staff position for the promotion of firearm safety training with funding from the NRA Foundation. Even if the program focused solely on safety and never crossed into the rights issue or promotion of firearms ownership, the media and hoplophobes would go ballistic.

The very innocuous and apolitical Eddie Eagle Gun Safe program, with coloring books and video cartoons teaching kids that if they come across a gun they should “Stop – Don’t Touch – Leave the Area – and Tell an Adult,” comes under fire because it is given to schools and police departments free by the NRA Foundation.

Public-private partnerships can be good things, but local politicians need to be extremely cautious about giving the keys to the city to any outside group whose altruism might be driven by a political or social agenda. The old adage of never looking a gift horse in the mouth does not apply in civic matters – just ask the Trojans. It is very tempting to a politician to be able to offer constituents some valuable service at a fraction of its normal cost, so it’s up to the citizens to be attentive and keep their politicians on the straight and narrow.

For those who might not know, Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a political group formed by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. It has an agenda almost identical to that of the Brady Campaign and other anti-gun groups, but it goes to great lengths to make its proposals seem reasonable and moderate when, in fact, they are intended to make firearms ownership more difficult and dangerous. Bloomberg has spent millions of dollars from his own very deep pockets and the pockets of New York taxpayers to advance his agenda and is receiving additional millions from the Joyce Foundation – the same Joyce Foundation that gave Barack Obama a paid directorship as a stepping-stone into politics.

This scandal will be unfolding for weeks, and probably years, to come. The more information we can dig up on the MAIG employees infiltrating municipal government, the better chance we will have of putting a stop to this theft of taxpayer money. Check your local government for any private-public partnership grant programs – particularly programs funded by MAIG – and let me know what you find. Together we can pull the mask off of this beast and return control of municipal government to the people who live there.

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News

Senate Appoints ‘Vivacious Lady’ To Ethics Commission

The newest member of the state’s internal watchdog group says she won’t let partisan politics taint her ability to make fair decisions when weighing in on campaign and lobbyist reporting discrepancies.

Republicans hand-picked Tammy White, a former state government worker, to sit as the party’s Senate representative on the Ethics Commission last week.

Once an East Tennessee regional representative for former Gov. Don Sundquist and a business consultant for the Department of Economic and Community Development, White says she brings diverse experiences and an appreciation for accountability to the table in her new role as a government-employed ethics guru.

She says her experience gives her an edge to figuring out how to make the bureaucratic processes designed to make government more transparent also more efficient.

“You can collect a lot of data, but it’s what you do with the data that makes the most sense and value,” said White, 44, who is now the president and CEO of Leadership Knoxville, an organization that looks to inspire people to better lead their communities. “I think there are things like using more technology, and then reports that can be generated from that technology that can assist on the administrative side of the department.”

The Ethics Commission regulates lobbyist activity and financial disclosure statements from appointed and elected lawmakers.

White is one of six members appointed to the commission which is split evenly to represent both Republicans and Democrats. They set policy, issue opinions and review related complaints.

The members, serving four-year terms, are appointed by leadership in the Senate, House and the governor.

White was one of three people the caucus considered for the position. She replaces Nathaniel Goggins of Chattanooga

Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, called her a “vivacious lady full of energy and character” when introducing her to members of the State an Local Government Committee.

Although her last political work was done on a Republican governor’s watch, White says party biases won’t interfere with her decisions on the commission.

But Sen. Thelma Harper, a Nashville Democrat, said she wanted to make sure anyone taking the spot would be impartial.

“I would hope simply because your politics are different from my politics, I would not want that to get in the way of fairness. That’s the only thing I ask,” said Harper.

“I believe in ethics and transparency in government makes for the best representative government that we could ever have,” she told committee members who voted unanimously for her appointment. “I do believe that we are all human, and can make errors, but I think we can look at that fairly and justly, and I give you my word that that’s exactly what I will do.”

Harper then joked about White slapping candidates with hefty fines, adding, “When you’re female, you have to smile as you turn the knife.”

After working in a variety of government jobs, White says she has an appreciation for transparency in government, holding people accountable and “really trying to find wrong and unethical behavior.”

She maintains that Tennessee, by and large, does a pretty good job at keeping politics clean, and legislative deal-making on the up and up.

“I will do my very best to be impartial when it comes to party politics and to be fair and just,” White told TNReport. “And I think that’s the most that anybody can ask for,” she said.