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Tennessee ethics bill backed by GOP leaders riles conservative groups

One particular measure in a sweeping ethics package that's riling some conservative groups is a requirement to more fully disclose expenditures.
Julia Ritchey
One particular measure in a sweeping ethics package that's riling some conservative groups is a requirement to more fully disclose expenditures.

Tennessee Republican Senate Speaker Randy McNally is throwing his full weight behind a sweeping ethics package that has riled some conservative groups.

The usually low-key Republican sent out an unusually spicy statement this week, calling out “blatant untruths” circulating about the ethics bill, which is also backed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

“The bill in question does not censor or otherwise curtail conservative activism or free speech in any way,” McNally said in the statement on Monday. “Anything conservative groups can do now, they can still do under this bill.”

One particular measure riling some groups is a requirement to more fully disclose expenditures. He suggested critics of the bill do not want to reveal how much — or how little — they spend from their donors.

“It is amazing that various seemingly ‘legitimate’ groups are resorting to such disingenuous tactics to oppose it. Is it because they are spending so much that Tennesseans would be appalled if they knew? Or is it that they spend so little that they fear they would be exposed as political grifters working to enrich only themselves?” said McNally.

McNally did not identify any nonprofits by name, but several conservative groups, including the NRA and Americans for Prosperity have voiced opposition to it.

The anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life called McNally’s comments “puzzling” and “out of character.” 

“Like many other not for profit organizations, our [organization] publishes legislative voting records and informs our members about legislative actions, but it does not get involved with elections. This bill would fundamentally alter our operations by falsely considering us a Political Action Committee,” Stacy Dunn, the group’s president, said in a statement.

The bill would require any organization to register as a PAC if it publishes any materials about a candidate or campaign at least 60 days before a primary or general election.

The reforms follow a series of embarrassing scandals this year involving lawmakers implicated in campaign finance violations, including the creation of a phony political consulting firm with connections to former House Speaker Glen Casada, who is currently serving his final term in the House. 

The bill is expected to be heard in the Senate on Wednesday morning. Lawmakers in the House and Senate are hammering out differences between their two versions of the legislation.

A spokesperson for Gov. Bill Lee says he will consider the legislation when it gets closer to his desk. 

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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