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Supreme Retention, Replacement Campaign Spending Tops $1.5 M

Press release from Justice At Stake; August 1, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 1 – In the final week before the August 7 retention election for three incumbent Tennessee Supreme Court justices, spending has soared over a million dollars with both pro-retention and anti-retention groups investing heavily in television advertising, Justice at Stake has found.

“Tennessee has joined a growing club of states where courts face a tidal wave of spending and political pressure,” said Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake. “As judicial campaigns grow worse, money and partisan interests can’t be allowed to undercut impartial justice.”

According to state disclosures, the three incumbents, Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee, have raised over $1,045,000 among their three campaigns since the start of the year. In addition, a pro-retention group, Tennesseans for Fair Courts, has raised over $46,000 this year.

An anti-retention group, the Tennessee Forum, has raised more than $426,000 since the start of the year, including a contribution of $425,000 from RAAMPAC, the PAC set up by Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, who has led efforts to unseat the justices.

In recent days, Ramsey also distributed via email a video instructing voters how to vote against retention of the justices.

In addition, the Republican State Leadership Committee reports expenditures of over $196,000 on an anti-retention direct mail effort, while two other groups have spent undisclosed amounts on anti-retention efforts via direct mail and broadcast advertising: Americans for Prosperity, and the State Government Leadership Foundation, an RSLC partner group. The SGLF has purchased television advertising contracts worth more than $23,000, according to FCC filings by local television stations.

Overall, public files available on the FCC website show that at least $987,000 has been spent to book television advertising contracts by pro- and anti-retention groups. Of this, more than $562,000 has been spent by the justices’ campaigns and supporters, while more than $425,000 has been spent by opponents, led by the Tennessee Forum with more than $402,000.

Links to videos of the ads are available on the Buying Time website of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU.

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Press Releases

Ramsey: The Conservative Case to Replace the TN Supreme Court Justices

Letter from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; August 1, 2014:

Dear Friend,

If you’ve been following the state Supreme Court election, you know that for the first time in decades, Tennesseans are learning about our Supreme Court through the constitutionally-required election process.

You may remember that I began an educational effort to make sure that voters, victims-rights advocates and members of law enforcement knew an important election approached. My goal was to have an engaged and informed electorate so the retention ballot would be a real election rather than a coronation, as in years past.

At that time we knew, based on decisions the Court had made, that their judicial philosophy did not fit the values of most Tennesseans. I believed my role would be limited to raising awareness about the importance of Supreme Court elections.

Today, we know far more about our Supreme Court. Despite asserting that they are nonpartisan, their campaign team is made up entirely of Democrats – and not just any Democrats. Liberal Democrats with direct ties to Obama, Harold Ford Jr., and state Democrat Party chairman Roy Herron.

While their campaign is run by Obama liberals, their fundraising efforts are being executed by trial lawyers who have a vested personal interest in the outcomes of Supreme Court decisions.

The Tennessee Forum, an organization started to oppose Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and fight a state income tax, is doing exceptional work on this replacement effort. They share the same conservative principles and mission as RAAMPAC, the organization I started over a decade ago to push the legislature in a more conservative direction.

RAAMPAC has always been about more than just obtaining numerical majorities — it has been about promoting the conservative cause. I cannot in good conscience sit on the sidelines while Obama operatives distort the record of this liberal Supreme Court and attack the reputations of those who oppose them.

My cause is the conservative cause. And the place for conservatives to be is fully behind the effort to replace a Supreme Court that is out-of-touch and out-of-line with Tennessee values.

That is where I am. If you have already voted REPLACE, thank you. If not, I hope you will join me in voting to REPLACE Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.
Sincerely,

Ronald L. Ramsey
Lieutenant Governor
Speaker of the Senate

1 Legislative Plaza
Nashville, TN 37243
(615) 741-4524

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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.

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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 trent@TNReport.com on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.