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Model legislation group wants Lee to veto disclosure rules for dark money spending

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) presides over a floor session on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

ALEC Action, the advocacy arm of the American Legislative Exchange Council, wants Gov. Bill Lee to veto a bill requiring 501(c)4 groups like itself to disclose spending meant to influence the outcome elections within 60 days of the vote.

ALEC Action in a letter to the governor claims legislation championed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), could cause nonprofits to identify their donors. Sponsors were adamant during the debate over the measure that it would only require expenditures to be made public — not donors.

“If enacted, this legislation would implement an extremely broad, unclear, and dangerous state registry dragnet targeting non-profit organizations, many of which are currently engaged in standard issue advocacy,” according to Lisa Nelson, ALEC Action’s CEO.

Other conservative groups like the National Rifle Association, Americans for Prosperity, and the Beacon Center have spoken out against the measure. But the final version still passed on a vote of 85-3 in the House and 31-1 in the Senate.

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Governor Lee,

ALEC Action writes with strong concerns regarding S.B. 1005/H.B. 1201. Given the extremely ambiguous language, low thresholds for expenditure reporting, and what would likely be unconstitutional requirements of compelled donor identity disclosure, we strongly encourage you to veto this legislation.

This bill requires organizations designated as tax-exempt by federal law, including 501(c)(4)s, (5)s and (6)s, to report their expenditures to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance after certain communication and financial thresholds are met. This non-profit reporting requirement is triggered after a financial threshold in the aggregate amount of only $5,000 is met and when spent towards certain communications 60 days before an election, however, this legislation fails to provide a clear definition of qualifying communications. If enacted, this legislation would implement an extremely broad, unclear, and dangerous state registry dragnet targeting non-profit organizations, many of which are currently engaged in standard issue advocacy. Further, it is unclear how Tennessee agencies and courts will interpret this law, creating a variety of issues for them, the tens of thousands of organizations spread across the political spectrum in Tennessee, and the donors who support them.

The right of philanthropists to keep their giving private is a longstanding constitutional protection that should be respected by states. It is for this reason that ALEC filed an amicus brief in support of a case where the United States Supreme Court upheld these very principles and privacy protections. Further, the proposals in S.B. 1005/H.B. 1201 are inconsistent with ALEC Action principles, such as the Statement of Principles on Philanthropic Freedom as well as the Resolution in Support of Nonprofit Donor Privacy. Referring to a candidate’s position on policy matters should never result in the disclosure of donor information from non-political groups, and legislation should not seek to classify such organizations as entities required to do so. Policy that seeks to address campaign finance issues simply by expanding legal thresholds and reporting requirement windows does not truly address election integrity matters, but instead burdens numerous organizations with onerous reporting requirements, while violating the privacy rights organizations and their supporters are entitled to.

S.B. 1005/H.B. 1201 is a drastic overreach that would encroach on the privacy rights of non-profit organizations and their donors, all while creating a chilling effect on free speech. Because of the consequences of such a proposal, along with its inconsistencies with limited government principles, ALEC Action encourages you to veto S.B. 1005/H.B. 1201.

Sincerely,

Lisa B. Nelson
Chief Executive Officer
ALEC Action

Ogles camp announces $453K haul for 5th District bid in first 30 days

Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles says his campaign for the Republican nomination for the open 5th Congressional District seat has netted $453,000 in the first month since joining the race. Ogles didn’t officially enter the contest until the end of the Federal Election Commission’s most recent reporting deadline, so he won’t have to make official disclosures until July 15 — 20 days before the primary.

The Ogles campaign says none of his fundraising total came in the form of loans and that all contributions were from within Tennessee.

Here’s the full release:

COLUMBIA, TN – Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles raised $453,000 in the first thirty days of his bid for the 5th District Congressional seat. Ogles, who was a late entry into the race, officially became a candidate on April 6th. 

Mayor Ogles stated, “I am humbled and overwhelmed by the support I’ve received since entering the race. Not only has the fundraising response been incredible, the results in recent straw polls in both Wilson and Marshall Counties, as well as the candidate auction in Williamson County demonstrate the strength of my grassroots campaign.” 

Mayor Ogles attributes his success with the grassroots to his decades of activism where he has helped lead the charge against Obamacare expansion, government overreach and various tax increases. “Tennesseans want elected officials who will fight for them in the same way President Trump fought for us. During Covid I never wavered, I fought for freedom and liberty in the face of threats, and I will fight for Tennessee against a Federal government that has gone too far and grown too powerful,” said Ogles.

Recently Mayor Ogles made national headlines as he refused to close Maury County during Covid. Ogles actively campaigned against State and Federal mandates by holding the ‘Freedom Matters’ tour where he recruited other elected officials and TN citizens to standup against government overreach with the town hall meetings consistently drawing crowds between 500 and 800 individuals. 

Lee Beaman, a well-known businessman and conservative fundraiser, who serves as Mayor Ogles Campaign Chairman added, “I recently attended an event with several very conservative Members of Congress who were asking about the 5th Congressional Race and I told them Andy Ogles is Tennessee’s Ron DeSantis and, like the Florida Governor, Andy is a true fighter for the people and he is exactly who we need serving us in Congress.” 

Slatery tells colleagues he won’t seek another term as Tennessee Attorney General

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery has informed his staff he won’t seek a second eight-year term this fall, The Tennessee Journal has learned.

Slatery was the chief legal counsel to then-Gov. Bill Haslam when he was named attorney general in 2014. Tennessee is the only state where the state’s top lawyer is appointed by Supreme Court.

Slatery surprised observers last year by taking a vocal stand against a legislative effort to to insert state lawmakers into the selection process by giving them power to approve or reject the high court’s nominees. The constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston), the General Assembly cleared all but the final hurdle to making it onto the ballot this year. But the measure failed in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee in March.

Speaking at Nashville Rotary in October, Slatery said the change would contribute to the attorney general becoming a “political office.” Lawmakers already have the power to turn back executive decisions via the simple majority needed to override gubernatorial vetoes, Slatery said, and now “they want to control this, too.”

UPDATE: Slatery spokeswoman Samantha Fisher confirms Slatery informed colleagues of plans to retire.

UPDATE 2: Here’s the note Slatery wrote to staff:

Hello Everybody,  I want you to know that after much thought, discussion, prayer and seeking of advice, I sent a letter to the Supreme Court today advising them that I do not plan on applying to be re-appointed.  I wish I could tell all of you in person, but there will be a better time for that and communicating my gratitude to you for helping us continue to build a fine AG Office.  You are a very special group of people.  It has been an honor to be the Attorney General and Reporter, one I could never fully describe.  Words just would not do it justice.  Some of you have seen a number of AG transitions (and I may need your coaching 😊) but I can assure you that come September 1 someone of the highest caliber will step into this role.  Our Court knows how to do this.  Until then let’s keep a steady hand on the wheel.  With great respect, Herbert

Winstead hires advertising consultant Davis, Trump pollster Fabrizio for 5th District bid

Kurt Winstead (Photo credit: Winstead campaign)

Former National Guard Big. Gen. Kurt Winstead announced he has hired political ad maker Fred Davis and Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio for his Republican bid for the open 5th Congressional District seat.

Here’s the release from the Winstead campaign:

Nashville, Tenn. – General Kurt Winstead (Ret.), a conservative Republican candidate for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District, announced today major additions to his campaign leadership team.

“We have so much momentum. Our conservative message to the Republican voters in the 5th District is resonating, and I am so excited about our senior campaign team that will help us win this election,” said Winstead.

The new additions include:

— Fred Davis, a veteran media consultant, who has advised on a number of successful state and federal campaigns including Governor Bill Lee, Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Lamar Alexander. Davis will produce the television and radio advertising.

— Tony Fabrizio and David Lee will act as pollsters for the campaign. Fabrizio and Lee are veteran consultants and pollsters. Combined, they have worked for decades on hundreds of Congressional and Senate campaigns across the country. Fabrizio also served as chief pollster for President Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

— The Stoneridge Group, a well-respected conservative political consulting firm based in Atlanta will lead the campaign’s direct mail and digital efforts.

The campaign previously announced its initial team, including:

— Chris Devaney is Winstead’s senior advisor. Devaney a former Tennessee Republican Party Chairman who served in senior roles on multiple winning campaigns in the Volunteer State, including managing Governor Bill Lee’s successful campaign in 2018.

— Kim Kaegi serves as the campaign’s finance consultant. Kaegi has over thirty years of statewide fundraising experience across Tennessee. Kaegi has worked for dozens of campaigns including Governor Bill Lee, Governor Bill Haslam, Senator Bill Hagerty, and Congressional campaigns of Diane Black, Tim Burchett, Stephen Fincher, David Kustoff, and Phil Roe.

— Jimmy Granbery, a Nashville businessman, is the finance chairman for the campaign.

“This campaign team is one of the best in the country and has the experience to win,” said General Winstead.

Recently, the Winstead campaign announced $1 million cash on hand after a successful fundraising effort following his formal announcement in March.

New TNJ edition alert: Casada crashes out in WillCo, Carr breaks losing streak, and skulduggery gone wrong

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) checks his phone as he awaits the joint convention to hear Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Embattled Casada crashes out of Williamson County clerk’s race.

— Election roundup: Carr breaks losing streak, Wamps win, Griffey claims judgeship.

— From the campaign trail: GOP wants judge to toss out Starbuck lawsuit over 5th District ouster, maps show former Shelby GOP chair doesn’t live in Shelby, and skulduggery gone wrong.

— Obituaries: The man who could have denied Gore’s first political office and the “Marryin’ Squire.”

Also: Alito cancels Nashville appearance after draft Roe v. Wade reversal leaked, Lee announces a Cabinet shakeup, and acoustic problems at a GOP fundraiser in the state’s largest county.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Lee declines signature on ‘truth in sentencing’ bill

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters in Gainsboro on July 8. 2021. (Image credit: State of Tennessee)

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a “truth in sentencing” bill championed by legislative Republicans to require people convicted of violent crimes to serve all of their sentences behind bars, The Tennessee Journal has learned.

Under the final version of the bill sponsored by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), 100% of sentences would have to be served for nine categories of crimes, including murder, vehicular homicide, and carjacking. Seventeen other violent offenses — such as aggravated assault, reckless homicide, or possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony — would allow prisoners to qualify for release after serving 85% of their sentences.

“Data does not support the basic premise of the legislation,” Lee wrote to the speakers. “Similar legislation has been enacted before and resulted in significant operational and financial strain, with no reduction in crime. Widespread evidence suggests that this policy will result in more victims, higher recidivism, increased crime, and prison overcrowding, all with an increased cost to taxpayers. For these reasons, I have chosen not to sign the bill.”

The bill passed the House on a vote of 86-9 and 20-7 in the Senate. It will become law without Lee’s signature.

Here’s a statement from Sexton in response:

You can protect criminals or you can protect victims.  I stand with victims, as do members of law enforcement, our district attorneys, and criminal judges across Tennessee. In 2020, the U.S. Sentencing Commission published a study stating stronger sentencing has a statistically significant deterrent effect by reducing crime and lowering recidivism. That’s why Tennessee’s law enforcement community stood behind us and supported this legislation.

Sometimes we need to use common-sense approaches; more violent criminals in jail for longer periods means less crime and fewer victims. Softer sentences mean more crime and more victims.

Our job is to keep our communities safe, protect our families, and support law enforcement.  If we need to build more prisons, we can. Either we value life or we don’t; this legislation was about the most violent crimes committed in our state.  It’s hard to stand with victims and law enforcement by going easy on criminals.

McNally dials it back a bit:

Truth in Sentencing is vital legislation that not only offers justice and transparency to victims but also acts as a critical deterrent against violent offenders. The costs associated with the legislation are well worth the peace of mind offered to victims and the overall boost to public safety. While I disagree with Governor Lee’s critique of the bill, I appreciate his willingness to work with Speaker Sexton and I to get the bill in a posture to avoid a veto. I am grateful this bill is now the law of the land in Tennessee.”

Lee doesn’t sign bill banning camping on public property

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a bill criminalizing camping on public property, allowing the measure to become law without his approval.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) has been criticized as targeting homeless people. The measure defines camping as erecting temporary structures, cooking, or sleeping outside of a motor vehicle.

Lee earlier this week expressed concerned about “unintended consequences” contained within the bill, but didn’t elaborate.

During the debate over the measure, Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) gained national attention for delivering what he called a “history lesson” about Adolf Hilter and homelessness.

“In 1910, Hitler decided to live on the streets for a while,” Niceley said. “So for two years, Hitler lived on the streets and practiced his oratory and his body language and how to connect with the masses, and then went on to lead a life that’s got him into history books.” 

Niceley said homelessness shouldn’t be considered a “dead end.”

“They can come out of this, these homeless camps, and have a productive life,” he said. “Or in Hitler’s case, a very unproductive life.”

Starbuck sues over ouster from GOP ballot

Music video producer Robby Starbuck is suing over his removal from the Republican primary ballot in the 5th Congressional District. Starbuck was booted along with former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus and businessman Baxter Lee.

“The state party is trying to go beyond the scope of what they’re allowed to do by kicking a bonafide Republican like me off the ballot” Starbuck said in a statement. “It’s the same sort of backroom trickery they tried to use against Trump in 2016 at the Republican convention — which is ironic since the state party is trying to get the next Republican convention to Nashville.”

Here’s the press release from the Starbuck camp:

Republican congressional candidate Robby Starbuck has responded to the Tennessee GOP scheme to effectively remove him from the ballot with a lawsuit, filed Monday afternoon in Federal court. The suit names the Tennessee Republican Party — which includes the State Executive Committee, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party Scott Golden, Coordinator of Elections Scott Goins, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and the office of the Secretary of State. 

The Starbuck campaign’s brief alleges that officials used secret and irregular means to prevent a free and fair election. The Starbuck campaign expects that disenfranchised Tennesseans and Robby Starbuck will be awarded relief in the form of a court-ordered reversal of the State Executive Committee’s decision, likely on constitutional grounds, to return Robby Starbuck to the ballot.

“The state party is trying to go beyond the scope of what they’re allowed to do by kicking a bonafide Republican like me off the ballot” said Starbuck. “It’s the same sort of backroom trickery they tried to use against Trump in 2016 at the Republican convention — which is ironic since the state party is trying to get the next Republican convention to Nashville. Tennessee voters won’t forgive this behind the back theft of their choice on Election Day. Disenfranchising our voters robs them of an America First candidate aligned with President Trump, leaving them with only weak alternatives — Tennesseans demand a reversal!”

Starbuck is also fighting for two of his primary opponents to be reinstated on the ballot, Baxter Lee and Morgan Ortagus. 

“This is not communist Cuba, where my family escaped from,” Starbuck commented. “In America, the party doesn’t get to just SELECT candidates that they like — the people get to ELECT the candidate they want on Election Day!”

President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. expressed his support for Starbuck on Twitter earlier this week. .

“This lawsuit is a testing point—and hopefully a turning point—that could end backroom politics” concluded Starbuck. “We’re not going to stop fighting until WE THE PEOPLE are given our constitutional rights back.”

Lee halts executions for rest of year, calls for independent review

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is placing a moratorium on executions in Tennessee for the rest of the year to allow for an independent review of lethal injection processes.

Lee had postponed the execution of death row inmate Oscar Smith on April 21 due to an unspecified “oversight in preparation for lethal injection.” The governor’s office has hired former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton of Memphis to oversee the review.

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced plans to launch a third-party review of a lethal injection testing oversight that resulted in a temporary reprieve for death row inmate Oscar Franklin Smith.

“I review each death penalty case and believe it is an appropriate punishment for heinous crimes,” said Lee. “However, the death penalty is an extremely serious matter, and I expect the Tennessee Department of Correction to leave no question that procedures are correctly followed.”

Both the United States Supreme Court and Lee declined to intervene on the merits of Smith’s case, but questions surrounding lethal injection testing preparation for the April 21 execution resulted in a temporary reprieve by the governor.

Tennessee will retain former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to conduct an independent review of the following:

— Circumstances that led to testing the lethal injection chemicals for only potency and sterility but not endotoxins preparing for the April 21 execution.

— Clarity of the lethal injection process manual that was last updated in 2018, and adherence to testing policies since the update.

— TDOC staffing considerations.

“An investigation by a respected third-party will ensure any operational failures at TDOC are thoroughly addressed,” said Lee. “We will pause scheduled executions through the end of 2022 in order to allow for the review and corrective action to be put in place.”

Since 2019, three of four executions have been carried out by electric chair. Death row inmates may choose to be executed by electric chair rather than lethal injection, and lethal injection is the default execution method in Tennessee. The April 21 execution was set to be the first execution since February 2020 due to disruptions caused by COVID-19. This execution was one of five executions scheduled to take place this year. The Tennessee Supreme Court will determine rescheduled dates for the 2022 executions.

Not natural? Lee declines signature for bill treating people who have had COVID-19 same as vaccinated

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A bill declaring previous COVID-19 infections to be same as having been vaccinated has become law in Tennessee without the signature of Republican Gov. Bill Lee.

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Bud Hulsey of Kingsport and Sen. Joey Hensley, a Hohenwald physician. Both are Republicans. The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 26-5 in the Senate and 66-20 in the House.

The bill defines natural immunity as being verified by a lab test or a letter for a licensed physician. Critics said the latter does not require any scientific proof to be established.

The Tennessee Constitution gives the governor 10 days (excluding Sundays) from receipt of a bill to sign, veto, or allow the measure to become law without his signature.

The governor took similar action on a recent bill seeking to establish a three-year residency requirement for congressional candidates to run in Tennessee primaries. By waiting for the entire period before declining to affix his signature, the bill didn’t become law until after the candidate filing deadline.