In the news:
The Tennessee Center for Policy Research has filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration (F & A) Public Information Officer Lola Potter alleging violation of the open records laws. Approximately nine months ago, the conservative think tank requested information regarding Commissioner David Goetz and State Architect (Brain behind the Bunker) Mike Fitts and haven’t gotten the information yet. (President Drew Johnson’s words)
Meanwhile, the House passed a proposal to remove the cap on toll road projects. (Now, we can all have toll road projects. I can have a toll road and you can have a toll road too! Whoopee! Eh, this would be much better if we were talking about ice cream or money.)
Apparently, Seigenthaler Public Relations is attempting to defeat legislation which would allow wine to be sold over the internet and in grocery stores (and can I just say I’m all in favor of having the ability to purchase my onions, taters and Black Chicken or Hound Dog Red all in the same place.)
The PR firm allegedly sent out bulk mailers warning citizens of potential drink-loving lawmaking evildoers and urging them to take action. Then, they developed a website aimed at preventing internet wine sales/teenage drinking. On the site, visitors are encouraged to sign an online petition, which sends a form letter to lawmakers urging them to oppose both bills.
While the campaign was supposedly organized by a group calling itself Tennesseans Against Teen Drinking, efforts were funded and/or backed by major alcohol lobbying firms: the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee, the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association, and the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association.
According to the advisory opinion drafted by the TN Ethics Commission, Seigenthaler’s actions meet the legal definition of lobbying (being paid to communicate “directly or indirectly” with legislators or other state officials to influence a vote on legislation or government action.) and Siegenthaler didn’t register employees as lobbyists.
President Amy Seigenthaler said in her statement: “We think this advisory opinion raises serious constitutional questions that will open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences and lead to the chilling of free speech.”
I agree. Any limits placed on a PR firms right to lie or manipulate the truth could have serious consequences! (Hey, nobody said free speech had to be honest and open too – nor does it have to be free. Free speech can be privately purchased by lobbyists and it is still protected under the Constitution.)
The second question before the Ethics Review Committee would be – is Robert Gowan a lobbyist? Gowan, who was the governor’s top legislative adviser before joining Southern Strategy Group, may have crossed the line into lobbying when he advised a client the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, about pending legislation on statewide cable franchising.
Gowan, however, claims advising is different than lobbying: the Ethics review panel agreed.
If you ask me, the whole story smacks of a Jeff Foxworthy skit. You might be a lobbyist if….you talk to both sides and wear shiny shoes. If might be a lobbyist if you’ve ever purchased a lawmaker and/or public opinion with your American Express. You might be a lobbyist if… Ulysses Jones can’t eat your biscuits…
Oh, and last but not least, Senator Ophelia Ford returned to the Legislature on Monday. In browsing the news articles and blogs, I’ve discovered that Ophelia had a bleeding ulcer. She wore a brown warm up suit and walked with a cane upon her return, although I’m not sure how that’s germane to anything. But not one single person has commented upon her return by using the phrase “That ain’t hittin on nothing with me.”
(Sigh) I miss Kleinheider.