Press Releases

McWherter Press Conference Release on Haslam Family Business Interests

Press Release from Mike McWherter for Governor Campaign, Sept. 21, 2010: McWherter Implores Haslam To Have Honest Conversation with Voters As Conflicts Accumulate, Knoxville Mayor Has No Choice But to Disclose

NASHVILLE – At a press conference today in downtown Nashville, Jackson businessman and Democratic gubernatorial nominee called on opponent Bill Haslam to publicly disclose his finances and have an honest conversation with the voters of Tennesseee.

The move comes as documents were recently uncovered linking CVC Capital, ½ owner of Pilot Travel Centers, to business dealings in the Middle East and raising eyebrows concerning Bill Haslam’s conflicts of interest.

“CVC has major ownership stakes in companies that are doing business with countries including Iran, Libya, Syria and others,” said Mike McWherter. “One example is the German company Evonik which is actively involved in the development of chemicals and energy sources, including nuclear power. And they have offices in Tehran.

In 2008, Pilot Travel sold 47.5% of its company and entered into an equal-governance partnership with CVC Capital, a Luxembourg-based private equity firm. In the same year, CVC Capital purchased a 25% stake in Evonik. Evonik and its predecessor, Degussa, helped countries like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea develop their weapons and nuclear programs.

“Nearly half of Pilot’s interests are foreign-owned, and at least one of those foreign companies is doing business with Iran–a rogue nation that is developing nuclear weapons and poses a threat to our national security,” said McWherter.

Throughout the primary election, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam was repeatedly asked to disclose his personal finances in order to ensure Tennessee’s highest political office remain open and transparent. However, in a deliberate attempt to deceive Tennessee voters, Haslam has refused to disclose his personal finances and avoided discussing the particulars of his business interests.

“Does Haslam just expect the people of Tennessee to just trust him when he says his business dealings pose no conflict of interest as governor? That’s ridiculous,” said Mike McWherter. “This is about an open and honest discussion with the voters of Tennessee – this is about the character of a man who seeks our state’s highest office. The people of Tennessee deserve an answer.”

Press Releases

McWherter Slams Haslam for Pilot Oil Environmental Violations

Press Release from Mike McWherter for Governor; Aug. 19, 2010:

NASHVILLE – According to documents obtained from State Environmental Departments, Pilot Oil Corporation has been cited for nearly 50 violations regarding negligent maintenance of underground storage tanks oftentimes resulting in groundwater contamination in Ohio, California, Indiana, New Jersey, Arizona and Tennessee.

In addition to state government agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency has cited Haslam’s oil company for over 20 violations, most of which relate to “effluent exceedance,” which concerns high levels of pollutants in and around storage sites. These developments help to explain why Haslam declined to respond to a questionnaire sent to him by the Tennessee Clean Water Network earlier this year.

“Clearly, Bill Haslam cannot separate his ownership of a billion dollar oil company from the interests of Tennesseans,” said Shelby White, spokesman for Mike McWherter. “His company’s poor environmental record indicates yet another reason why he is unfit to be governor of this state. Tennessee needs a Governor who looks out for its citizens and not for the profits of his family’s massive oil business.”

The documents raise questions concerning the Knoxville Mayor’s ability to neutrally govern the state of Tennessee. Given Pilot Oil’s problems with environmental agencies across the country, it is unlikely Bill Haslam would appoint unbiased, tough environmental regulators to hold his family’s company more accountable in Tennessee.

“How can we trust Mayor Haslam to objectively govern this state while his family’s billion dollar oil business incessantly skirts rules and regulations,” White commented. “Tennessee’s natural resources are its greatest assets and need to be protected. Mike is the only candidate committed to safeguarding our state’s water resources, which support thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars in tourism revenue.”

Recently, Mayor Bill Haslam has been speaking to potential voters about his commitment to clean energy and his desire to pursue “homegrown” energy sources. While his statements initially appear to be genuine expressions of candor, they are in fact an attempt to whitewash his company’s tumultuous environmental record and rewrite the history of Pilot Oil.

“Tennessee is one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet and needs a governor who will serve as a steward of our natural resources,” added White. “Bill Haslam is more interested in oil profiteering than protecting our natural resources. We may sit on different sides of the aisle, but we all drink from the same source.”

As part of his campaign platform, the Mayor of Knoxville has often claimed he grew thousands of jobs in his leadership role at Pilot. If he is willing to take credit for mergers and buyouts engineered by his father and brother, then he also assumes responsibility for Pilot Oil’s extensive list of environmental violations and persistent refusal to effectively combat groundwater contamination across the nation.

Press Releases

Wamp Wants Haslam To Talk About Pilot Oil Gas Gouging

Press Release from Zach Wamp for Governor; June 22, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Zach Wamp, Republican candidate for governor, today called on Bill Haslam to fully explain all of the details of his company’s history of price gouging consumers at Pilot Corporation gas stations in Tennessee and at least two other states.

Pilot Corporation, which Haslam co-owns with family members, was forced to pay fines and penalties for its actions against consumers when it violated the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act by overcharging for gasoline at prices up to $4.99 a gallon over a three-day period following Hurricane Ike in late 2008.

The Tennessee attorney general sued Pilot Corporation and its subsidiary, Pilot Travel Centers, to force the company to stop raising gas prices and restricting its supply during that crisis. The court later ordered the company to repay every customer who was overcharged at its gas stations and fined Pilot thousands of dollars for its illegal behavior against Tennessee motorists.

Pilot Oil was also caught price gouging its customers at travel centers in Georgia and Kentucky during the same period, and the company was again forced to reimburse consumers and pay court-ordered fines – $100,000 in Kentucky alone – for its actions.

“Pilot Corporation’s price gouging of Tennessee consumers, as well as consumers in at least two other states, is the ultimate betrayal of public trust. Mayor Haslam needs to explain what happened, why it happened, who was responsible and why he tried to blame local gas station employees when he was first asked about it,” Wamp said.

“Since three different states punished Bill Haslam’s company for price gouging its own customers at the pump, it was clearly a systemic attempt to run up their profits at the expense of consumers during a national crisis. Now Mayor Haslam refuses to release his tax returns, which would show how much in wind-fall profits he made off the backs of hard-working Tennesseans.”

Haslam has made his experience at Pilot Corporation the major theme of his campaign for governor, repeatedly referencing his time with the company at campaign events and in his multi-million dollar TV ad campaign that began in February.

“Those who seek to serve Tennessee as Governor should be held to a high standard of conduct,” Wamp said. “But it is clear from Mayor Haslam’s repeated refusals to be fully open and transparent with the people of Tennessee about his personal finances and his many conflicts of interest with state government from his Pilot Oil holdings that he believes those standards don’t apply to him or his company.”

Last week Wamp called on Haslam to voluntarily disclose Pilot Corporation’s total earnings from the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation through sales of lottery tickets at its retail stores, yet another conflict of interest Haslam has with state government. Pilot Corporation ranks fourth all-time among the Lottery’s top 25 corporate accounts in terms of gross sales.

The Tennessee Education Lottery has generated more than $6.5 billion in sales since its inception in 2004 and has paid out roughly $393 million in commissions and bonuses to its retailer partners, including Pilot Corporation and Pilot Travel Centers, which is listed separately among the Lottery’s top 25 accounts and has an employee who sits on the state Lottery Retailer Advisory Board.

Mayor Haslam has also failed to be fully open and transparent about the partnerships Pilot Travel Centers has with casino gambling operations in at least three states, including hundreds of 24-hour slot machines throughout Nevada. Last week the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Mayor Haslam, his brother and father hold personal ownership licenses for locations in Louisiana that operate video poker machines and that Pilot Travel Centers in Montana partner with gambling operators that offer poker, keno and other games.

With less than a month remaining until early voting begins, Haslam is the only gubernatorial candidate not to comply with a request by the Tennessee Newspaper Network to release copies of his federal tax returns from the last three years. As a result, taxpayers are left in the dark as to the size and scope of Haslam’s personal stake in Pilot Corporation, which pays a registered lobbyist to watch over its investments and lobby for government funding for the $16 billion company at the state Legislature in Nashville.

Business and Economy News Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

Haslam Sticking to His Guns on Pilot Financial Disclosures

Bill Haslam doesn’t sound like a man who’s going to change his mind and disclose his income from Pilot Corp., the Haslam family business.

“We’re going to spend as much time as we can on who we are and why we think folks should vote for Bill Haslam for governor,” Haslam said this week.

Haslam’s Republican opponents in the governor’s race have blistered the Knoxville mayor for not reporting income from Pilot, citing potential conflicts of interest for Haslam should he become governor.

Pilot Corp., which grew from one gas station to a large chain of Pilot Travel Centers on roadways, is established as a “Subchapter S” corporation under the federal tax code. That status means gains and losses are reported on shareholders’ individual tax returns. Haslam says disclosure of his financial interest in Pilot would mean disclosing personal income of family members, which he does not want to do.

“I don’t know what it adds to the discussion,” Haslam said. “I have other family members I care greatly about that you’re already subjecting to a lot when I run, and this opens them up to a lot of things that they didn’t ask for.”

Haslam, suggesting the ownership of Pilot is obvious to the public, said he doesn’t know what divulging the income would add.

“I don’t know what the voter gains,” he said, explaining that he doesn’t hear questions about his income from voters. “I’m out talking to people all the time. I never hear that. I hear lots of conversations about jobs and education. I hear people concerned about the budget, people concerned about the direction of the country. Nobody ever asks me about that (financial disclosure), except the other candidates.”

The issue arose in December when the state’s four major newspapers, in a collaborative arrangement known as the Tennessee Newspaper Network, asked all 2010 gubernatorial candidates to provide information on their finances.

Candidates were asked in November to provide their federal income tax returns and related schedules for 2006-2008. Haslam reported money earned on investments that averaged $4.75 million a year from 2003-2008, but the submission did not include data on Pilot. Haslam’s submission on investments outside Pilot was extensive.

A copy of a letter dated Nov. 25, 2009 from the Steiner & Ellis accounting firm, addressed to Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Tom Humphrey, who wrote the income story for the Tennessee Newspaper Network, states, “If elected, all of Bill’s and Crissy’s assets, except Pilot, will be placed in a blind trust.”

Crissy is Bill Haslam’s wife. The Haslam family, headed by James Haslam Jr., the candidate’s father and founder of Pilot Corp., is one of the most influential in the state in terms of wealth, philanthropy and political involvement.

Bill Haslam is considered by many to be the frontrunner in the Republican primary to become governor, and he has collected more than $5.7 million in campaign contributions, which tops the field of four major Republican candidates and three Democrats.

Haslam has already launched a statewide television ad campaign, making him the first to do so.

“We want to do everything we can to answer every question we can,” Haslam said. “Like everything else, you try to say, ‘What do people care about, and what do people need to know if I’m going to be governor?’ Because of that, we’re releasing more than anybody who’s run in this race has released when they ran in prior races and more than is required by law and shows everything we own, I own, and every source of income I think tells people everything they need to know about where I have investments and where I might have potential conflict.”

Haslam says his interest in Pilot isn’t hidden.

“Everybody knows my relationship to Pilot,” he said. “That’s not a secret.”

One of Haslam’s Republican opponents, Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, insists Haslam has a conflict of interest, for example, when the potential for a new highway interchange is considered. U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, another Republican opponent, has said Haslam has numerous conflicts since Pilot sells regulated items such as tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets.

“On road projects or anything else, if you own any asset and you’re the governor, that same question could be asked,” Haslam said. “The governor oversees and regulates things from all sorts of businesses, from farming to any other kind of commercial interest, and if you own any investments, you could say, ‘Gosh, you shouldn’t be governor.’ I don’t think we want to only have people in government who don’t own any assets.”

Haslam said it is not as though it is a hypothetical issue, given his current office.

“This isn’t a theoretical conversation. I’ve been an active mayor for six and a half years, so there is a track record on all these questions that are being asked,” he said. “I’m more than willing for people to come look at Knoxville and say, ‘All these things we’re concerned about, what’s happening in Knoxville? Would he do this or do that?’ Come check.”

He poses the question of whether the issue means you could only have a governor with no private sector involvement.

“If you say, ‘Only if you have been in government service all your life can you be governor,’ I don’t think people want to put anyone who owns assets on the sidelines like that,” he said. “On roads, the reality is, anytime you add a road, if you have an existing network of gas stations or truck stops, it could easily hurt as much as help. Road investments, like everything else we do as a state, if I’m governor, will be driven by: How can we make Tennessee the best location in the Southeast for jobs?”

Haslam said questions about such issues are being asked more of him than any other candidate in the campaign.
Transparency and Elections

Wamp Launches Campaign — And More Barbs at Haslam

Republican gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp critiqued the much-discussed early television ad by primary opponent Bill Haslam today as a “Pilot Oil ad,” adding that his own ads will show a candidate running for governor.

“I’m grateful, frankly, that there’s a lot of money being wasted right now, because we’re going to wait and spend our money in a very efficient, effective way,” Wamp said.

Wamp’s reaction to the Haslam ad came in Murfreesboro Tuesday following a morning event at the State Capitol Building, where Wamp formally announced his campaign for governor.

“I believe deep in my bones that we have a great state, the greatest of all states, but I know in my heart we can do better,” the congressman told a crowd while standing with his family in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the State Capitol Building.

The room was filled with supporters and state legislators. House Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton — though not on board as a supporter — also poked his head in at the announcement.

Wamp said this is no time for a status quo governor and called for smaller government.

“Government cannot solve all of our problems,” he said. “Ladies, and gentlemen, we’re going to have to shrink the footprint of state government and get through this recession and grow our economy.”

While his Capitol appearance served as his formal campaign announcement, Wamp has been running for governor actively for months.

Wamp offered his take on the Haslam advertising campaign while stopping for lunch today at the City Cafe in Murfreesboro, which just happened to coincide with an appearance by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kim McMillan.

Wamp arrived first, met with many of the diners and had just sat down with his family when McMillan entered for her own interaction with the lunchtime crowd.

McMillan had spoken at Middle Tennessee State University. Wamp’s entourage had made its way into town after being at Capitol Hill in Nashville.

Two storylines have dominated the Republican primary race in recent days.

One is the effort by Wamp and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons to hold Haslam accountable for refusing to disclose his personal income from Pilot Corp., the Haslam family business known for the Pilot Travel Centers along highway roadsides. Over the last week, the two have peppered the Knoxville mayor with public comments calling for him to release his private records.

“Mayor Haslam’s running in a Republican primary,” said David Smith, Haslam’s campaign spokesman. “But it sounds like he’s running against a bunch of California liberals attacking capitalism.”

The other hot topic is Haslam’s early statewide campaign television ad buy. The move is drawing attention not only for its early timing but for the $5.7 million in campaign contributions Haslam has collected– giving him a decided financial advantage over his opposition.

“This is a big week in that we’re kicking it into the home stretch,” Wamp said. “But this is also a momentum week because while one candidate is spending a lot of money branding himself on television, I am out clearly laying out where our state needs to go to become an even better state. And I think that’s a contrast.”

Since he brought up what was clearly a reference to Haslam, Wamp was asked to critique the debut ad that hit televisions across the state Friday.

“I don’t want to talk much about what the other campaigns are doing with their money,” he said, then added, “To me it looks like a Pilot Oil ad. My ads are going to show me running for governor with a plan and an agenda to make Tennessee a better place, not the family business. So they can brand him however they want to, and they can spend as much money as they want to, but the people of Tennessee want a leader with vision and a plan to make Tennessee an ever better state.

“Frankly, I have the experience of having done that,” he continued. “I’ve been able to do that in one part of the state. Now I want to do it in the whole state, and the people are with us.”

The Haslam ad depicts the Knoxville mayor as having worked hard to build up the Pilot business, showing images of trucks at truck stops while a voiceover reflects on Haslam’s work as mayor. The ad also gives a glimpse of Haslam knocking on doors working his campaign and walking with others toting big red umbrellas.

In the restaurant in Murfreesboro, Wamp made his way over to greet McMillan, one of three Democratic candidates for governor. The smiling McMillan said to him what sounded like, “Great minds think alike” about their chance meeting.

McMillan’s campaign staff said the location was a coincidence, but they acknowledged they learned about a day or so ago Wamp was scheduled to be there, too.

Wamp, the 3rd District U.S. congressman from Chattanooga, is on what his campaign bills as a “statewide announcement tour.” He will be in the TriCities on Wednesday.

Wamp said he was encouraged by the crowd of people who had attended his event at the Capitol.

“Frankly, the desire for new leadership is what’s causing this,” he said. “In the Capitol itself, to have that kind of show of support, to have many of our legislators there, leaders from the community there, I was greatly encouraged.”

It was cramped quarters from the start in the Murfreesboro cafe where the soup, chili and sandwiches were moving quickly. The entrance of McMillan to go with the Wamp crowd made for even closer brushes between patrons and servers.

There, McMillan talked about the kinds of reactions she gets from such meetings with the public.

“A lot of them say, ‘Good luck,’ ‘Go for it,’ ‘We’re for you,’ which I like,” McMillan said. “But a lot of it is, ‘Here’s what I think.”

“I just heard two good ideas when I got here. One was someone talking about regionalism, and someone else promoted the idea of lifelong educational opportunities, thinking about making sure people always have that re-training and education. Good ideas.”

Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report.