is the governor really serious about ethics?

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Thursday, 30 March 2006

On March 3, barely two weeks after signing the new ethics bill into law, Bredesen appointed powerful Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council lobbyist A.J. Starling to serve on the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.

According to the Registry of Election Finance, Starling is still a registered lobbyist with the Tennessee AFL-CIO.  (Note:  Starling also still sits on Davidson County’s Election Commission.)  The Human Rights Commission has authority over workplace and employment rules–the very areas where Starling lobbies for the AFL-CIO. 

It was just these kinds of conflicts of interest that the recently passed ethics legislation was supposed to make illegal.  Tennesseans have long had ample reason to believe that their government officials have their own personal interests at stake, and not the interests of their constituents.  Sadly, Governor Bredesen’s ill-advised appointment confirms this view.

I’ve said it before, and I will continue to say it: It’s time for a change!

hat tip:  Thanks to Drew Johnson and the Tennessee Center for Policy Research for highlighting this issue.  You can read the press release at the TCPR website.)

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11 Responses to “is the governor really serious about ethics?”

  1. Bill Hobbs Says:

    Did the Comprehensive Governmental Reform Act of 2006 have an “effective date” in it that is, uh, later than now? I don’t know, but I bet it did – giving the gov a window of time to pack the boards with lobbyists.

    If not, then he is in clear violation of the law.

  2. Bill Hobbs Says:

    Hey, here’s a picture of Gov. Bredesen signing the Comprehensive Governmental Reform Act of 2006 into law: http://www.tennesseeanytime.org/governor/viewArticleContent.do?id=742&page=0

    And here is the law itself: http://tennessee.gov/sos/acts/104/pub/pc0001EOS.pdf

    The applicable provision is TCA 3-6-304(m):

    No lobbyist shall serve as a member of any board, commission or governmental entity of state government having jurisdiction to regulate the business endeavors or professional activities of any employer of the lobbyist; nor shall any lobbyist serve as a member of the state election commission or any county election commission, however, such prohibition does not apply to a lobbyist serving on an election commission, on the effective date of this subsection, as long as the lobbyist continuously serves as a member of that commission.

    Section 53 of the Act says this: Within Section 35, §§ 3-6-304 and 3-6-305, shall take effect on becoming law, the public welfare requiring it; and, notwithstanding any provision of this act or any other law to the contrary, from such effective date through September 30, 2006, the Registry of Election Finance shall implement and enforce §§ 3-6-304 and 3-6-305, in the same manner and to the same extent that the ethics commission is authorized to implement and enforce such provisions on and after October 1, 2006.

    The Act became law the moment the governor signed it, Feb. 15, 2006.

    So, it is crystal clear that if Bredesen appointed Starling to the board after Feb. 15, he violated the law.

    What’s the penalty?

  3. joe public Says:

    Good question, Bill. I will have to check, but I think it is supposed to be in effect now. If I’m right, then the law has indeed been violated.

    Stories like this remind me of what I know of a little place in history called Tammany Hall.

  4. Bill Hobbs Says:

    Thanks joe, I found the information probably while you were typing your comment!

  5. Bill Hobbs Says:

    it does appear that Gov. Bredesen has violated the very ethics reform legislation he signed into law on Feb. 15.

    Hey, here’s a picture of Gov. Bredesen signing the Comprehensive Governmental Reform Act of 2006 into law: http://www.tennesseeanytime.org/governor/viewArticleContent.do?id=742&page=0

    And here is the law itself: http://tennessee.gov/sos/acts/104/pub/pc0001EOS.pdf

    The applicable provision is TCA 3-6-304(m):

    No lobbyist shall serve as a member of any board, commission or governmental entity of state government having jurisdiction to regulate the business endeavors or professional activities of any employer of the lobbyist; nor shall any lobbyist serve as a member of the state election commission or any county election commission, however, such prohibition does not apply to a lobbyist serving on an election commission, on the effective date of this subsection, as long as the lobbyist continuously serves as a member of that commission.

    Section 53 of the legislation says this: Within Section 35, §§ 3-6-304 and 3-6-305, shall take effect on becoming law, the public welfare requiring it; and, notwithstanding any provision of this act or any other law to the contrary, from such effective date through September 30, 2006, the Registry of Election Finance shall implement and enforce §§ 3-6-304 and 3-6-305, in the same manner and to the same extent that the ethics commission is authorized to implement and enforce such provisions on and after October 1, 2006.

    The Act became law the moment the governor signed it, Feb. 15, 2006.

    So, it is crystal clear that if Bredesen appointed his lobbyist pal to the board after Feb. 15, he violated the law.

    What’s the penalty?

    P.S. Although I would prefer Sen. Bryson stay in the state Senate rather than make a likely-futile run against Brede$en, methinks that if he is going to run, Bryson ought to head to the nearest capital steps, call a press conference, and say, plainly, the governor is a lawbreaker who cares nothing about the ethics law he just signed into law.

  6. Bill Hobbs Says:

    Ruh roh. I think I’ve found the loophole that Bredesen wriggled through.

    As Bob Krumm so correctly notes, the Human Rights Commission has authority over workplace and employment rules–the very areas where Starling lobbies for the AFL-CIO.

    The Comprehensive Governmental Reform Act of 2006 forbids the appointment of lobbyists to “any board, commission or governmental entity of state government having jurisdiction to regulate the business endeavors or professional activities of any employer of the lobbyist.”

    But Starling works for the Tennessee AFL-CIO, not the businesses whose hiring practices and workplace rules the Human Rights Commission very clearly has regulatory authority over.

    It looks like a loophole!

    But, wait. The AFL-CIO is an employer as well. It employs Starling, for example. Presumably, its workplace rules must conform to state law and regulation, including those overseen by the Human Rights Commission.

    And Starling lobbies the legislature on workplace issues that govern employers – including his own employer. Presumably, the Tennessee AFL-CIO is required to abide by the Comprehensive Governmental Reform Act of 2006 – a law that now makes it illegal for lobbyists to sit on boards that oversee the lobbyists’ employer.

    Loophole or no, Starling’s appointment is what the common folks know is a conflict of interest.

    A bad one.

    The kind the Comprehensive Governmental Reform Act of 2006 was supposed to put an end to.

    The kind Gov. Bredesen pledged to reform out of the system.

    The kind he perpetuated by appointing a labor lobbyist to the Commission that oversees workplace rules impacting labor.

    I don’t think that is what voters thought they were getting when Bredesen signed the Comprehensive Governmental Reform Act of 2006 into law.

  7. Bob K Says:

    Bill that would be two loopholes. The law states:

    nor shall any lobbyist serve as a member of the state election commission or any county election commission,

    But then adds an exclusion that specifically exempts people like Starling:

    however, such prohibition does not apply to a lobbyist serving on an election commission, on the effective date of this subsection, as long as the lobbyist continuously serves as a member of that commission.

    Meaning that if you’re a lobbyist who already has a conflict of interest, it’s okay that you maintain that conflict of interest.

    They’re laughing at us from their high perch up on Capitol Hill.

  8. Bill Hobbs Says:

    Well, get up there and clean it up!

  9. Bob Krumm » number two dem in the state house is stepping down Says:

    [...] I’ve heard rumors of at least two other incumbents stepping down because their day jobs and their legislative assignments put them into a conflict of interest given the newest ethics rules (one from each party). Of course, they could just ignore ethics laws like other people seem to have done. [...]

  10. Luke Rogers Says:

    Go ahead and spend all day long yammering about whether Bredesen didn’t or didn’t break the law, but it’s not going to make a bit of difference. First, the spirit of the ethics law was geared toward dampening the influence of big contract lobbyists and corporate lobbyists – not the people who represent broad-based groups like organized labor (which BTW has been a champion of human rights in the workplace for the better part of a century; although they’re prone to get off on tangents lately). Second, even if this appointment was a technical violation of the law, that’s ALL it was: A technical violation. Bottom line: You can spend all your time whipping each other into a frenzy over something that MIGHT be a technicality. Or you can get a L-I-F-E.

  11. Bill Hobbs Says:

    Er, wait. It’s technically a violation of the law to take cash for voting a certain way on legislation. Four legislators got arrested on a technicality, then.

    You don’t seem to understand, Luke, that there are those of us who believe that our elected officials ought to behave ethically, and within both the letter and the spirit of the laws they pass.

    Organized labor is just another special-interest group with a lobbyist hired to use the legislative process to get them more money via either direct allocations of state funds to labor-intensive projects, or by regulations or wage rules that drive up their wages or drive up the cost of hiring non-union labor.

    Them’s the facts.

    So, Starling lobbies for such interests and agenda on the one hand, and then is appointed to a Commission which oversees employers who are forced to operate under the agenda Starling is successful in passing.

    The fox has been appointed to guard the chicken coop. By the governor.

    In violation of the ethics law.

    The ethics law that the governor himself signed just three weeks before.