Nashville – Just one week after the Senate passed sweeping ethics reform meant to clean up the influence of money in state government, Senate Republicans voted in the Senate State & Local Government Committee to kill legislation designed to close a loophole in campaign finance law that allows individuals and special interest groups to funnel money to political candidates at levels far exceeding legal limits.
“The Republicans on the committee need to be honest with the people of Tennessee,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, who sponsored the bill. “If we’re going to tell people we have campaign finance limits, we ought to really have limits. My bill would have put some controls in the campaign process to prevent hiding the true source of campaign funds by funneling them through numerous political action committees.”
Kyle’s bill was an attempt to enforce the campaign contribution limits currently on the books. Under current law, an individual can contribute $1,000 to a candidate for state office in a primary election and another $1,000 in the general election.
Kyle noted that during the 2004 election cycle, former King Pharmaceutical CEO John Gregory funneled over $1 million to GOP political action committees (PACs) and candidates. In some instances, Gregory money made up the bulk of money given to PACs (97% of the funding of State of Franklin PAC and 96% of Tennessee Conservative PAC).
“John Gregory and the Republicans ran campaigns in 2004 based on circumventing current campaign finance laws,” Kyle said. “I have no problem with John Gregory or other King Pharmaceuticals executives contributing to campaigns. I just think they should follow the law.”
Kyle said that Gregory recently contributed another $50,000 to the Tennessee Conservative PAC.
“Based on today’s vote, it appears the Republicans are planning to employ the same questionable tactics in the next election,” Kyle said. “Meanwhile, Democrats will continue to abide by both the letter and the spirit of the law.”
Because of the Senate Committee’s actions, the bill will not become law this year. The bill failed with all five Republican members voting no. Those members include Senator Tim Burchett, Senator Bill Ketron, Senator David Fowler, Senate Republican Leader Ron Ramsey and Senate Republican Caucus Chair Jeff Miller.