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As Tennessee lawmakers reconvene, pre-session fundraising frenzy continues behind closed doors

Posted: 4:37 PM, Jan 10, 2023
Updated: 2023-01-10 19:29:33-05
Jeremy Faison Fundraiser.jpeg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It's an annual tradition as predictable as the rising sun: Tennessee lawmakers preparing to gavel back into session, hitting up special-interest lobbyists for campaign contributions.

This session, NewsChannel 5 is continuing our award-winning "Revealed" investigation that shows you how Capitol Hill really works, and NewsChannel 5 Investigates was back on the streets in the days before lawmakers reconvened, following the money.

As our investigation previously showed, legislative leaders have the power to command thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the people with business before the legislature. Because fundraising is prohibited during a legislative session, the days before a session are typically booked with one fundraiser after another.

Original reports:

Legislative leaders engage in fundraising frenzy

Loopholes let lobbyists flood lawmakers with campaign contributions

Just four hours before the General Assembly reconvened Tuesday, NewsChannel 5 Investigates staked out a breakfast fundraiser at Puckett's downtown that was hosted by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager.

The price of admission: $500 per person.

Lobbyist at Pucketts.jpeg
Lobbyists enter breakfast fundraiser at Puckett's downtown.

Among those coughing up the money: the lobbyist for payday lender Advance Financial.

We also spotted another lobbyist for Advanced Financial, along with prison giant CoreCivic and more than two dozen other companies.

He was accompanied by a man who lobbies for a charter school operator, as well as Metro Nashville.

There was also a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton hosted his own fundraiser at the upscale downtown restaurant The Palm, every person paying at least $1,000.

Speaker Cameron Sexton enters The Palm.jpeg
House Speaker Cameron Sexton enters The Palm

Among the special interests, we spotted a man who lobbies for a school privatization group and other clients.

One woman's clients include school privatization groups and the sports betting industry.

There was also the lobbyist who represents the state's roadbuilders, who have hundreds of millions of dollars potentially at stake with the governor's transportation plan.

And at the downtown Frothy Monkey, House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison hosted a coffee and tea fundraiser.

The price there: essentially, give what you want.

Jeremy Faison Fundraiser.jpeg
Rep. Jeremy Faison hosts a pre-session fundraiser

"Most of the people you saw in there represent my constituents at home, from nurses to engineers to my local teachers. The majority of people you saw in there represent an association in my district," said Faison, R-Cosby.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "So when lobbyists show up do you think they are here because they support you or because they want something?"

Faison's answer: "I think they support me because the people at home gave them money to support me."

Also among those in attendance lobbyists for Airbnb, the company for whom Faison carried legislation last year to try to curtail Nashville's ability to regulate short-term rentals.

Related:

Does truth matter on Tennessee's Capitol Hill?

As for how much they or anyone else ponied up, we won't know until financial disclosures are filed at the end of the month.

Ethics watchdogs have condemned such events as, quote, political bribery. But because the people benefiting write the laws, it's all completely legal.

SPECIAL SECTION: Revealed

Do you have information for our investigation? Email us: investigate@newschannel5.com