Special Interest Groups Spend $60 Million A Year To Curry Favor With Tennessee Legislators

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The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –

According to an analysis by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, special interest groups spend approximately $60 million a year in an effort to curry favor with Tennessee legislators. That’s almost a third of a billion dollars over the past five years.

Entities that hire lobbyists are not required to report the exact dollar amount spent on these activities, so this is a best possible estimate. Employers of lobbyists are only required to report spending ranges so NewsChannel 5 Investigates came by these numbers by picking the middle point of each reporting range.

Former Republican lawmaker Martin Daniel from Knox County said, “If the interest groups are willing to spend that kind of money to make their voice heard and to sway the opinion of legislators, there are some very important things that might affect persons here in the state going on right here in the legislature.”

It makes you wonder what is really going on behind the scenes of the Tennessee General Assembly. Who is trying to influence Tennessee’s lawmakers, and why?

According to Daniel, lobbyists are “advocating for their client” and not necessarily for the best interests of the state and Tennesseans.

Debby Gould of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters said that NewsChannel 5’s estimate, “takes my breath away.”

In an interview with NewsChannel 5, Gould said, “Obviously that much of an investment means somebody thinks they’re getting value out of it.” Her meaning is clear. These groups are not spending the money for no reason.

Daniel said, “That money buys access to legislators because those lobbyists are frequently in the Cordell Hull building… It buys them awareness as to what’s going on.”

NewsChannel 5 asked former Democratic lawmaker Craig Fitzhugh Ripley if the average person has as much access to lawmakers as someone who has a big pocketbook.

He said the average person can have a voice, but it’s more difficult for them to be heard. “I think that’s always been the case, and it’s not changed.”

On the first day of this year’s legislative session the business on the House and Senate floors was completed in just 20 minutes. After the public went home, legislators met at the Tennessee State Museum for a private reception. There, among tables of food and free wine and liquor, lobbyists rubbed shoulders with the people who we voted to represent us in the Tennessee House and Senate and even the Governor’s house.

The price of this event? A staggering $65,000, paid by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, along with some of the state’s largest corporations, like Amazon and FedEx. Companies that have incidentally received large tax breaks.


NewsChannel 5’s hidden cameras captured footage of another reception the next night, atop the downtown Sheraton. This time the tab was picked up by short-term lenders who take in tens of millions of dollars every year all the while charging exorbitant interest rates to the most impoverished Tennesseans.

The truth is, almost every night, there is some event from some group that wants to influence our lawmakers.

“I think it’s mostly designed to provide access to the legislators for those special interest groups,” Martin Daniel said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates stated, “They’re doing it to try to influence legislation.”

“In a subtle manner,” Daniel agreed. “You don’t see a lot of overt lobbying at those receptions. It’s more of a friendship, introduction type of thing.”

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One of the biggest spenders, according to NewsChannel 5’s analysis, is the state’s hospital industry. They have spent an estimated $10 million over the last five years. That includes the Tennessee Hospital Association, as well as individual hospital chains.

Daniel took on this industry, in an effort to force more competition that he said could drive prices down. He recalled, “When you try to propose legislation that one might think is in the best interest of the state and of its people, you run into well-funded lobbyists who try to persuade legislators otherwise.”

Other big spenders include:

  • Privatization groups who want charter schools and school vouchers
  • Roadbuilders and their allies who pushed for higher gas taxes
  • Payday lenders and others who make money by lending to those who can least afford it
  • Nursing home companies

Lobbyists are not the only ones trying to influence Tennessee leaders. Millions of dollars are donated to legislators’ political campaigns by special interests.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates gave as an example a brochure from the Tennessee Realtors. The brochure stated that the group’s political contributions “earn us a seat at the table.”

Indeed, the group’s defeat of an impact-fee bill was held up as an example of “Your RPAC Dollars At Work!”

And all of this is absolutely legal.

“You’re saying that money buys you influence, very clearly,” said Debby Gould. “I mean, how else can you put it except money buys you influence.”

About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at paula@tennesseeconservativenews.com.

3 thoughts on “Special Interest Groups Spend $60 Million A Year To Curry Favor With Tennessee Legislators

  • February 17, 2022 at 7:15 pm

    Special interest groups should not be allowed to give money and BUY POLITIANS. In fact they should all be arrested and any legislator taking money should be arrested and thrown out of office. It is that simple. But of course no politian will ever do that to themselves

  • February 19, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    Just like Judas betrayed Jesus for money. Politicians sell their souls to the lobbyists and betray their constituents!
    In God we trust not man or government!

  • March 13, 2022 at 3:14 pm

    My name is Martin Daniel. I did not conduct an interview with anyone from the Tennessee Conservative.

    The quotes set forth here, while accurate, are incomplete and taken out of context. The primary point of my interview with Phil Williams was to highlight the odd misuse of taxpayer funds in legislative lobbyists who actually Lobby and Work Against bills proposed by the representatives of the people. So, executive administrative agencies, who have access to your reps and senators, are talking with legislators and appearing before legislative committees in an attempt to defeat the very bills proposed by them and their colleagues. That’s almost bizarre! Further, I got the impression that many of these well paid “legislative lobbyists” do not have the authority of the Governor or the agency Commissioners to engage in this activity. That is omitted from this article. Paula Gomes(writer of the articel), contact me and I will give you the real story here.

    Other omissions include:

    1. Lobbyists and special interest groups have a first amendment right to express their views and to make contributions to legislators. That right has been acknowledged and protected by the Supreme Court of the United States;
    2. The legislative receptions described are not “unfair” to citizens, because my legislative office door was always open to my constituents. They always had priority over lobbyists, and my(their) door was always open to them. I made a special effort to always take phone calls and to respond to constituent correspondence. Most Tennessee legislators have this same policy. Those who don’t will not be around long.


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