On collecting excess PAC money, then voting to raise limits

Senate State and Local Government Chairman Ken Yager, who recently voted to double the amount of money senators can receive from political action committees, broke the existing limit last year and had to refund $60,000 in excess donations, reports The Tennessean.

“I found out about it when I was notified that I exceeded the aggregate limit by the Registry of Election Finance and returned it promptly upon learning about it,” Yager, R-Kingston, said in a statement to the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee.

After refunding the money, Yager joined more than 30 other legislators in setting up his own leadership PAC, known as KEYPAC.

Yager’s PAC received 120 contributions from various organizations and PACs in 2016, including $42,600 in donations from 19 PACs, the same amount those PACs tried to give to Yager’s campaign before he was forced to refund it.

Aside from Yager, 11 lawmakers returned a cumulative total of $37,000 in campaign contributions in 2016, according to a review of campaign finance statements for all 33 current state senators. Sens. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, had the most, returning $17,800 and $12,000, respectively.

The Senate on April 3 approved SB38, which as amended in Yager’s committee would raise the aggregate limit for senators on PAC donations to $472,000 every two years. The current limit is $472,000 every four years.

In brief Senate floor debate, Yager spoke in favor of the bill, saying it provides parity between the House and Senate on the aggregate limit. House members, who serve two-year terms, can raise $472,000 in a four year period now; Senators, who serve four-year terms, are limited to half that amount in two years.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, in the Senate while the House version is sponsored by Rep. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown. The House approved the measure — without the Senate amendment adding the aggregate limit increase — on an 84-9 vote last month. It now returns to the House for a vote on the amendment.

Without the amendment, the bill revises the general ban on incumbent legislators raising campaign money during a legislative session. Under the bill, the ban would not apply during special sessions of the General Assembly — such as one held in September of 2016.

UPDATE/NOTE: The House Thursday — on Goins’ motion — refused to concur with the Senate amendment. Next step: The Senate can back off the amendment and let the original bill become law without the revision or stick to it and, possibly, bring on a House-Senate conference committee to try resolving the differences.

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