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Summary of Ethics Reform Law

(Story created: 2/15/06)

Tennessee lawmakers passed sweeping ethics reform during their special session. Here's a summary of the law's key provisions, as prepared by the House Republican Caucus:


  • Lobbyists will have to disclose if they have an immediate family member serving in the Tennessee General Assembly and their personal interests.
  • Lobbyists will be prohibited from being appointed to state boards and commissions.
  • Contingency fees will not be permitted in lobbyist contracts.
  • Legislators will not be allowed to serve as lobbyists for one year after departing service in the General Assembly.
  • Lobbyist full disclosure / must report aggregate money spent to influence legislation and compensation ranges and must register subject matters lobbied for employers.
  • Ethics training expanded to lobbyists.
  • No lobbyist can contribute personally, including in kind contributions, to campaigns for legislators or governor.
  • Lobbyist definition changed to reflect someone who is at the Capitol 10 days annually.
  • Audits: 2% of registration statements, amendments and reports subject to random audits and lobbyist's employers if probable cause as determined by the registry.
  • Registration statement of employers of lobbyists required to indicate they have received ethics manuals as required by bill.
  • Lobbyist photos on on-line.
  • Add school boards, utility districts, counts and cities as government employers that are not construed to be "employers of lobbyists."
  • Lobbyists must disclose credit card expenditures.

Open Government

  • Open meetings - will use the senate version of committee meetings to determine.
  • Caucuses will be required to provide disclosures of contributions and expenditures, $1,000 floor.
  • Post legislative votes and committee and subcommittee votes in a timely manner.
  • Take audio recordings of subcommittee meetings.


  • (Rinks amendment) Employers of lobbyist may pay up to $50 per event per day with $100 annual limit only to members who do not receive per diem allowance.
  • If per diem is received, a member may not receive any food, refreshments, meals or beverages that are provided in connection with the in-state event that are not offered to other
  • The limitation will be increased to the nearest $1 amount to reflect the CPI index, every odd year beginning January 1 2007.
  • No prohibition on lobbyists hosting events.
  • Lobbyists may dine with legislators paid for by nonregulated parties only if the lobbyist did not arrange the dinner. 

Elected/Appointed Officials

  • Audits: 2% of candidates and candidate's committees will by subject to random audits.
  • Require all candidates that receive $1,000 or more to file online.
  • Adds governor to fundraising ban during session and special.
  • Ban on special session contributions.
  • One-year revolving door for legislators, governor, cabinet, cabinet level staff executive branch officials.
  • An official of the legislative branch should not place a relative in a position where he or she is the direct supervisor.
  • Clarifies that a candidate must pay all outstanding fines by qualifying deadline to run for office.
  • Campaign money could be used for scholarship fund if it is an existing fund or trust.
  • Limit cash contributions to $50.
  • Allow admission tickets to be purchased from campaign funds if considered a legitimate campaign expenditure.
  • Six campaign finance disclosures in an election year and two in a nonelection year for both candidates and PACs.
  • Adds provision that imposes federal aggregate campaign contribution limits on individuals to $101,400 per election cycle, with no more than $40,000 toward candidates and $61,400 toward political campaign committees or multicandidate political action committees. The aggregate limit increases with CPI. 

Ethics Commission

  • As amended by Chairman Sargent, there will be a Registry of Election Finance and a separate Ethics Commission with equal representation as follows: One D and one R picked by Governor; one each from the House and Senate caucuses. 
  • Local governments allowed to formulate own ethics rules.
  • Penalty structure for ethics violations will be similar to registry.
  • Confidentiality of ethics commission proceedings will be preserved.
  • Will use the Sen. Harper amendment regarding the structure of ethics complaints.
  • Ethics training for members of the Tennessee General Assembly, Ethics Commission and Registry.
  • Require Ethics Commission to publish manuals and post them online.
  • Legislators, Constitutional officers and Executive Office officials' statements of interest and expense reports available online.
  • Candidates should with best efforts disclose employer and occupation of itemized contributors.
  • Adds constitutional officers to those who must file statement of interest disclosures and out of state consulting contracts, $200 floor.
  • Member reimbursements by the state for travel and per diem will be posted online.

Read the final ethics reform law

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