NRA & Conservative Watchdogs Sound Alarm Over McNally’s Incumbent Protection Bill

Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov

The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally recently issued a statement that, among other things, slammed critics of an amended caption bill that will order non-profit groups to report expenditures of $5000 or more made 60-days prior to elections that expressly contain the name or visually depict the likeness of a state or local candidate in a primary or general election.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and Tennessee Conservative Watchdog groups see many potential issues that could arise due to the legislation and have voiced their concerns to The Tennessee Conservative and lawmakers alike.

McNally stated “Openness and transparency in the political process are prerequisites for freedom. For too long liberals, big corporations and corrupt political actors have been allowed to exploit loopholes in our system and operate in darkness.”

Tori Venable of Americans for Prosperity stated that they agree with the ‘openness and transparency’ statement from McNally but said, “If  lawmakers really wanted an ethics reform they would disclose the dollar value for any ticketed event they attend that was not paid for out of their personal funds. Or they could make contract taxpayer-funded lobbyists disclose how much in tax dollars they are receiving to lobby. But they did neither of these. This bill is a sham to act like they are doing something, when in fact they aren’t doing anything at all to improve transparency in the government.”

Gary Humble, executive director of Tennessee Stands, said, “They say they want to keep dark money out of elections. I agree. And I would go farther. Let’s keep special interests and out of state PAC monies from influencing the legislative process. Let’s also keep tax paid lobbyists out of committee hearings.”

When Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin-District 18) explained the bill to the Senate, he made it a point to say “This does not apply to lobbyists.

McNally’s statement says, “The original Senate version as well as the current house version does not affect donors at all, just expenditures. It is simply a lie to say otherwise. This bill is aimed at bad actors like the fictitious Matthew Phoenix and the various shell companies and shadowy PACs used by certain legislators to line their own pockets.”

Venable said, “I stand by my previous statements that this is a sham of an ethics reform to appear they are doing something to address the Phoenix scandal.  Instead, both chambers have refused feedback that the way this bill is drafted with TCA reference: 2-10-105(c)(1) and (h) could lead to confusion and/or trigger donor disclosure of non-profits. They could have removed (h) or added the specific part of the code that referred to the timing of filings. They simply chose not to. ”

Americans for Prosperity stated they have no issues with the rest of the omnibus bill, only the portion that targets non-profits.  

Americans for Prosperity issued this letter to legislators.  Click HERE.

The National Rifle Association agreed that Tennessee Code referenced in the legislation (TCA 2-10-105(c)(1) and (h) ) could create confusion and trigger donor disclosure as that portion of the current law requires donors to be included in reporting.

The NRA noted that referencing that portion of Tennessee code, even though the drafters of the legislation’s stated intent is to use this portion of the code to define the timing of reporting, “seems to open the door even wider for a court to read a donor disclosure requirement into the bill.”

Gary Humble said, “Everyone knows this bill is not about transparency. They also amended the bill in the 11th hour regarding the reporting of contributions. But why? I thought the original bill did not require the reporting of contributions?  Regulating speech at different periods of time as “political speech” only based on “when” the words are spoken and not “what” words are spoken (for example, 60 days before an election) is arbitrary.”

The NRA also warns that a non-profit organization’s spending could trigger the new requirements of this bill, even if the spending is not for the purposes of ‘influencing an election.’

“Spending having nothing to do with elections, including but not limited to grassroots lobbying communications, could trigger the obligations to report and appoint a treasurer. This creates the very real prospect that groups like NRA could spend $5,000 on a legislative communication or the like, incur the obligation to file reports and appoint a treasurer, and yet have no reportable “expenditures” under the relevant definition,” the NRA stated.

The NRA states that the legislation is unclear over what period of time the qualifying $5,000 must be spent in order to trigger the obligations in the bill. 

“Is it $5,000 in a quarter? In a calendar year? Per election (primary, general, special, runoff, etc.)? Per election cycle? Or would a group have to keep track of qualifying spending for an indefinite period of years, and start filing reports once the aggregate spending reaches the threshold?”

The NRA goes on to state that it is unclear how far into the future the obligation to report, and to maintain a treasurer registration, extends. Nothing in the bill seems to specify when the obligation to keep filing reports ends.

“The bill (even with the amendments) fails to answer some of the most basic questions that it raises. If it is enacted, this legislation will be a mess for the Registry of Election Finance, the courts, and the regulated community, including NRA and countless other advocacy groups. Its final effects could be significantly different than what was intended,” the NRA concluded.

The NRA issued this letter to legislators.  Click HERE.

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Justin Owen of Beacon Impact Tennessee issued this letter to legislators.

In part, the letter reads, “We have never sent out a mail piece and we have never endorsed or opposed a candidate.

Yet, the poorly drafted language of the legislation as amended would make our routine lobbying and advocacy subject to disclosure requirements if it falls within 60 days of an election. This is very similar to efforts made by Kamala Harris as attorney general of California when she targeted 501(c)(4) entities that the elected officials in those states didn’t agree with.

The bill as drafted silences groups like us from engaging on policy through confusing and uncertain reporting requirements. We already must fully comply with federal IRS regulations around what activity we can and cannot do, and we already report ranges for our lobbying activity to the Tennessee Ethics Commission. Subjecting us to more onerous reporting requirements for policy positions that happen to take place within 60 days of an election will do nothing to increase transparency, but instead create a barrier to educating policymakers and our fellow Tennesseans on important policy issues impacting them and our state as a whole.

As drafted, we simply don’t know how to comply. The reporting requirements would apply not just to our actual expenditures, but our “communications” as well. Do we have to track and report our staff’s time when they meet with one legislator and mention another’s name if we’re within 60 days of an election? What expenditures are required to be reported? Just the expenditures that mention a candidate’s name or all expenditures by our organization, even those that do not mention any elected official? When can we stop reporting expenditures? Can we still advocate for legislation during a special session without incurring these additional onerous reporting requirements?

This legislation as amended is not well thought out, is poorly drafted, and has been hastily rushed through the legislative process. Because of that, it will likely end up being litigated and left to the courts to determine its practical effect.”

Beacon Impact expressed no opinion on the bulk of the omnibus bill that doesn’t target non-profit organizations.

Stacy Dunn, President of Tennessee Right to Life, issued this statement in response to McNally’s comments:

“We have a lot of respect for the Lieutenant Governor and his staff. However, his comments today were out of character and puzzling to Tennessee Right to Life members and supporters. Like many other not for profit organizations, our 501c4 publishes legislative voting records and informs our members about legislative actions, but it does not get involved with elections. This bill would fundamentally alter our operations by falsely considering us a Political Action Committee. After many years of working with legislators across the state, we would expect a little more understanding from our allies in leadership before they rush to judgment. We hope a more palatable amended version presents itself before final passage,” Dunn said.

McNally appeared to be unmoved by opposition and concerns from Conservative watchdog groups and the NRA as shown in the closing of his statement:

It is amazing that various seemingly “legitimate” groups are resorting to such disingenuous tactics to oppose it.

Is it because they are spending so much that Tennesseans would be appalled if they knew? Or is it that they spend so little that they fear they would be exposed as political grifters working to enrich only themselves?

If you are working to influence the outcome of an election, the voters deserve to know who you are and what you are doing. What could possibly be wrong with that? The fact this is even in question demonstrates the need for the legislation.”

NewTruth

McNally’s Full Unabridged Statement:

“There are many blatant untruths circulating regarding the ethics reform bill Speaker Sexton and I have introduced.

The bill in question does not censor or otherwise curtail conservative activism or free speech in any way. Anything conservative groups can do now, they can still do under this bill. The legislation does not restrict their activity at all. The only additional requirement is disclosure.

Openness and transparency in the political process are prerequisites for freedom. For too long liberals, big corporations and corrupt political actors have been allowed to exploit loopholes in our system and operate in darkness.

The original Senate version as well as the current house version does not affect donors at all, just expenditures. It is simply a lie to say otherwise.

This bill is aimed at bad actors like the fictitious Matthew Phoenix and the various shell companies and shadowy PACs used by certain legislators to line their own pockets.

It is amazing that various seemingly “legitimate” groups are resorting to such disingenuous tactics to oppose it.

Is it because they are spending so much that Tennesseans would be appalled if they knew? Or is it that they spend so little that they fear they would be exposed as political grifters working to enrich only themselves?

If you are working to influence the outcome of an election, the voters deserve to know who you are and what you are doing. What could possibly be wrong with that? The fact this is even in question demonstrates the need for the legislation.”

About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative  ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com

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