Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
An obscure caption bill slipped in by Speaker Cameron Sexton seeks to censor Conservative groups 60-days prior to an election.
Americans for Prosperity, Beacon Center of Tennessee, Tennessee Firearms Association, Tennessee Right to Life, Tennessee Stands and other patriot groups may soon find themselves unable to even mention the names or show the faces of an elected official or candidate days before an election – or face tough penalties.
Buried deep in an obscure caption bill attached to HB1201 is a provision that would make it illegal for non-profit Conservative groups to inform voters about candidates or their records.
The leaked 15-page amendment, that is not yet available to the public on the General Assembly website, in Section 13 on page 9 states:
Notwithstanding another law to contrary, an organization that is tax exempt under United States Internal Revenue Service Code 501C4 is deemed to be a political campaign committee for purposes of reporting expenditures in accordance with 2-10-105 C1 and for filing an appointment of treasurer form if:
1 – The organization expends an aggregate total of at least five thousand dollars ($5,000) in organizational funds, moneys, or credits for communications that expressly contain the name or visually depict the likeness of a state or local candidate in a primary general election; and
2 – Such expenditures or communications occur within sixty (60) calendar days immediately preceding a primary or general election in which the named or visually depicted candidate appears on the ballot.
In response to the amended bill, Tori Venable of Americans for Prosperity – TN, said “Transparency is for the government and privacy is for the people. This ethics reform misses the opportunity to require government to be transparent about the amount of tax dollars it uses to lobby itself. Instead, it gets after small dollar donor privacy. This is the opposite of the ethics reform taxpayers had in mind. Transparency promotes trust and accountability; and government needs both.”
The Tennessee Conservative reached out to House Speaker Sexton asking the following questions about the legislation.
- Who does the bill impact?
- How will this legislation help primary voters in our state make more informed decisions?
- Will this bill also keep these organizations from saying anything positive about a candidate? Would they have to file as a PAC if they did?
- How does this bill align with conservative concepts like freedom of speech, small government, etc?,
- Can you point to a particular organization or example of a situation this bill is aimed at preventing?
Speaker Sexton replied, “This legislation does not place any prohibitions on any types of communications to voters from these currently unregulated and non-transparent entities. The proposed legislation would only require transparency for any 501c4 organization that spends $5,000 or more within 60 days of an election. I have a difficult time understanding how adding transparency to a 501c4’s campaign activities as we have with other groups that are required to disclose expenditures places limits on free speech or a small government approach. I believe Tennesseans stand for and want more transparency in campaign finance.”
We followed up with more questions but have not received a reply at the time of publication.
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Gary Humble from Tennessee Stands said “Why would they do this? Well, because we’re having an impact. They don’t like what we say, because they don’t being exposed, because they don’t want you to know the kinds of things that are going on in the General Assembly leading up to an election.”
As mentioned above, this legislation was introduced as a caption bill with the summary “As introduced, revises various provisions relative to ethics and campaign finance laws.”
The Senate version of the bill (SB1005), sponsored by Lt. Governor Randy McNally, was amended on April 4th with a 3-page amendment that does contain some of the same language that is found in the 15-page House amendment.
John Harris, Executive Director of The Tennessee Firearms Association, issued this statement: “Tennessee Firearms Association is appalled by the blatant attack on the 1st Amendment rights of Tennesseans that is contained in the Senate amendment adopted this week to Senate Bill 1005 by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (the companion House Bill is 1201 by Speaker Cameron Sexton). That amendment, in Section 13, would require any organization that is classified by the Internal Revenue Service as an “issue advocacy non-profit”, commonly known as a § 501(c)(4) entity, to register with the state of Tennessee as a political advocacy committee if certain conditions are met.
What are these conditions? Well, let’s say TFA wanted to do a “candidate forum” within 60 days of an election and it sent out postcards and spent funds on social media ads that contained the names and/or photos of the candidates who were invited. Let’s assume that neither the forum nor the announcements endorsed or opposed any candidate. Instead, the communications just announced that a public forum was being hosted by TFA. Those communications and perhaps the forum itself could result in the organization being forced by the state to register as a political action committee and it could require, as a result, that the organization’s member lists, donors, amount of donations, membership receipts, expenditures, loans, etc., all be reported to the State of Tennessee on publicly viewable disclosures.
That is a clear violation of the First Amendment according to relevant U.S. Supreme Court analysis. Tennessee Firearms Association strongly opposes this aggressive attack on issue advocacy groups that exist to protect the rights of Tennesseans and we see this legislation as an attempt by the Lee administration and some members of General Assembly to oppress and perhaps curtail the ability of Tennesseans to join together in grassroots movements. It is time that conservative or concerned Tennesseans be outraged as well and take action to stop this assault on their fundamental constitutionally protected rights.”
Senate Bill 1005 has already passed the committee process in the Senate and has been referred to the Calendar Committee for scheduling to be heard on the Senate floor.
If you oppose this legislation, you can find your Senator’s contact information HERE.
House Bill 1201 is scheduled to be heard by the House Local Government Committee on April 12th, 2022.
Please find the contact information for the Republicans on the committee below:
House Local Government Committee
John Crawford (chair) (R)– email@example.com – (615) 741-7623
Dave Wright (vice-chair) (R)– firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-6879
Kent Calfee (R)– email@example.com – (615) 741-7658
Dale Carr (R)– firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-5981
Ron Gant (R)– email@example.com – (615) 741-6890
Esther Helton (R)– firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-1934
John B Holsclaw, Jr (R)– email@example.com – (615) 741-7450
Tom Leatherwood (R)– firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-7084
Eddie Mannis (R)– email@example.com – (615) 741-2287
Debra Moody (R)– firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-3774
Note: Upon founding, The Tennessee Conservative did not elect to have a tax-exempt status. We did this in order to prevent government regulation of our editorial content.
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