Companion campaign finance reform bills are currently making their way through the Tennessee House and Senate that could significantly change reporting requirements for politicians across the state but also for some nonprofits.
Senate Bill 1005 and House Bill 1201 would add reporting requirements for all donations and expenses for statewide candidates and also for those with $1,000 or more in contributions or expenses in local elections.
Those reports then would go on the state’s campaign transparency website.
Another aspect of the bill would require any 501(c)(4) nonprofit that spends more than $5,000 on any “organizational funds, moneys, or credits for communications” that contain the name or likeness of a candidate in the 60 days preceding an election would then be considered a political campaign committee.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, such as the Salvation Army or Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity cannot engage in political activity. A 501(c)(4) nonprofit, however, can.
Tennessee’s Beacon Center is a 501(c)(3) while its advocacy arm Beacon Impact is a 501(c)(4) and the same goes for Tennessee Stands and Americans for Prosperity.
“This bill is a sham of ethics reform,” said AFP Tennessee State Director Tori Venable. “Transparency is for the government and privacy is for the people, not the other way around. 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. Transparency promotes trust and accountability; and government needs both.”
The bill would also add requirements for Political Action Committees (PACs), where any PAC that registers with the state must register with officers using a valid government ID.
“For too long, Political Action Committees have been able to exploit loopholes and meager disclosure requirements to their activities,” said SB 1005 sponsor Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin. “If you’re going to be a player in the process, voters need to know who you are and what you’re doing.”
The Senate version of the bill added an amendment when it passed through the Senate State and Local Government Committee last week and it could reach the Senate floor as early as this week.
The House version is scheduled to be discussed at Tuesday’s House Local Government Committee meeting on Tuesday with several amendments, but none of those amendments had been posted publicly as of midday Monday.
“I have been proud to work with Speaker Sexton, Speaker Pro Tem Haile and Rep. Whitson on this legislation to increase transparency and accountability in the realm of campaign finance,” said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally. “While no new legislation can prevent a bad actor from being deceitful or dishonest, I believe this bill will increase openness and accountability where it is badly needed.
“Voters deserve to know who is pushing the messaging they receive and whose money is behind it. This bill seeks to open up the political process and ensure voters have the information they need to make informed decisions.”
This article was originally posted on Tennessee lawmakers advance bills on campaign finance reporting for candidates, PACs and nonprofits