Effort to drop campaign contribution limits in Tenn. raises concerns

On May 21, 2009, in News 2009, by Mark Norris

TimesNews.net & MemphisDailynews.com , By Associated Press May 21, 2009 NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal described by the House sponsor as a “radical departure” from Tennessee’s current campaign finance laws is raising concerns from members of both parties in the Tennessee General Assembly. But it is also drawing the support at least one potential beneficiary […]

TimesNews.net & MemphisDailynews.com , By Associated Press
May 21, 2009

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal described by the House sponsor as a “radical departure” from Tennessee’s current campaign finance laws is raising concerns from members of both parties in the Tennessee General Assembly.

But it is also drawing the support at least one potential beneficiary in Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.

Republican Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga said Thursday that his proposal to remove individual contribution limits for gubernatorial campaigns would give every candidate the same fundraising potential as wealthy ones.

“Right now if a particular candidate wants to write $100 million to their own campaign — if they have that much money, they can do it,” McCormick said. “This allows everybody else to go to contributors that can afford to give a whole lot more money than $5,000.”

But Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said McCormick’s proposal likely goes too far.

“I’m not comfortable with that,” Norris said. “I think caps have their place.”

Republican Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Democratic businessman Ward Cammack of Nashville are two gubernatorial candidates with substantial personal wealth who could give large amounts of money to their own campaigns.

McCormick supports the gubernatorial bid of Republican U.S. Rep Zach Wamp of Chattanooga.

Ramsey, who is scheduled to officially announce is gubernatorial campaign next week, said he supports McCormick’s proposal.

“Arbitrary limits only make people look for ways to get around those limits,” said Ramsey, of Blountville.

McCormick’s proposal would require people making contributions in excess of the current limits to file online reports within a week. Ramsey said he supports full disclosure over contribution limits.

The Senate has advanced a measure to increase maximum campaign contributions by retroactively adjusting for inflation the amounts allowed in a law passed in 1995.

That means the maximum individuals could give to legislative candidates in a two-year cycle would rise from $2,000 to $2,800, while the most they could give to gubernatorial candidates would increase from $5,000 to $7,000.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said his colleagues are willing to go along with a related effort to drop an in-session fundraising ban for lawmakers running for governor or local offices. But they’re concerned about removing contribution limits, he said.

“We have a whole lot of problems with that,” said Turner, of Old Hickory. “I can’t see why we’d want to go along with that.”

McCormick acknowledges the proposal faces challenges, but said he hopes it will gather support as it moves to the House Finance Committee.

“It’s an uphill climb, there’s no doubt, because it’s such a radical departure from where we’ve been,” he said. “But I think it’s gaining a little bit of traction.”

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