NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption
Clock Runs Out on Lobbyist Disclosure Bill
(Story created: 4/5/05)
Tennessee is one of just a couple of states that do not require special interest groups to tell how much money they spend trying to influence your lawmakers. But, with the legislature already under an ethics cloud, some people went back to Capitol Hill to try and change that.
"We're basically saying stop corruption now," said Ben Cunningham of the Tennessee Tax Revolt group.
"I just want to know how much the special interest groups are paying to the lobbyists so we can factor that in when we get to the ballot box."
Three times, these citizen activists have come to Capitol Hill.
Three times, to see through ethics legislation pushed by Representative Frank Buck -- legislation to shine the light on the shadowy world in which special interests try to buy favor with lawmakers.
But the third time would not be the charm.
As Buck sat on the front row and lobbyists packed the room, the subcommittee pushed his bills back behind other competing proposals.
For more than an hour, the activists watched as the subcommittee passed out some ideas they liked.
Requiring lawmakers to disclose their employers and sources of income by name.
Outlawing so-called contingency contracts -- where lobbyists get paid big only if they are successful.
Mandating that lobbyists report how much total they spend wining and dining lawmakers.
"We are running five minutes over our allotted time," committee chairman Larry Miller said after those proposals had passed.
Still, Buck waited, as the subcommittee again ran out of time before it could get to his ethics bill.
"It's been on notice a long, long time -- and somehow or another, they just don't seem to get to it," the Dowelltown Democrat said.
And the activists say time is not on their side.
"We can't keep coming down here," Cunningham said, pointing to the committee, "and they know that."
The next chance for Buck's bill to be heard won't come for at least two weeks.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh has asked for a bi-partisan committee to look at the possibility of the creation of an independent ethics committee.
Then, there's the bill to outlaw consulting fees, like the ones taken by Sen. John Ford.
A Senate committee amended that bill to make it illegal for Speaker Naifeh's wife to be a lobbyist, and it would affect other Capitol Hill relationships as well.