NASHVILLE — An effort by House Republican leaders to put state lawmakers, candidates and party caucuses effectively on an honor system for reporting direct corporate campaign contributions melted down on the floor Wednesday amid charges it would invite corruption.
The bill failed on a 48-41 vote. It needed 50 votes to pass.
Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, questioned the ethics of exempting corporations from having to disclose directly their contributions and relying solely on lawmakers to report the money on their own state disclosures.
The current system, which requires both to disclose, is a vital accounting cross-check, Favors and other critics said. The bill would have retained reporting requirements by lawmakers, other legislative candidates and party caucus committees.
"We don't want to go through a situation like we've been through in the past," Favors said, alluding to the 2005 Tennessee Waltz sting in which four sitting lawmakers were arrested and later convicted for taking bribes.
"We don't want to place ourselves in a position where we could be arrested or indicted or suspected of doing something illegal or unethical," Favors said. "We don't want the citizens of the state to think that our votes can be bought."
Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, of Franklin, defended the bill.
"We are not bribeable," Casada retorted. "Don't insinuate that someone's going to be bribed because you are taking a couple of extra thousand dollars more. If you are prone to be character flawed and taking a bribe, you're going to take it on $50 just like you will $50,000. This is a way to educate your voters about who you are and what you stand for. This is free speech."
The bill also would have boosted the amount of money the Republican and Democratic House and Senate caucuses can contribute to lawmakers. Another provision would have allowed insurance companies to contribute directly instead of relying on political action committees.
As debate dragged on, Republicans faced increasing defections from GOP members worried about what voters might think about the move.
Favors and every other Democrat voted against the bill. Also voting no were 12 Republicans, including Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, voted for the bill as did Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland.
But Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, of Nashville, did not vote. Nor did Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah. Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, abstained.
It was unclear whether Casada might try to bring the bill back before the Legislature's expected adjournment later this week.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or email@example.com.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...