Haslam consultant Ingram faces lobbying questions

Friday, May 3, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 18

NASHVILLE (AP) - A top Republican political consultant and adviser to Pilot Flying J is facing possible civil penalties for failing to register as a lobbyist.

WTVF-TV first reported (http://bit.ly/18XNm6b) that Tom Ingram and his public relations firm represent a company that wants to mine coal on public land near Crossville. Ingram, who has run recent campaigns of Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, told reporters that the failure to register was a colleague's mistake at the lobbying company he founded and runs.

Ingram has been a chief architect of the public response by Pilot Flying J, the company owned by the governor's family, to an April 15 raid by federal agents who say the privately held company defrauded trucking customers. The company is run by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.

Ingram said he is paid for that role by the Nashville law firm of Neal and Harwell, which has been retained by Pilot Fl ying J to handle the legal response to the raid. No charges have been filed in that case.

Marcelle Durham, president of The Ingram Group, in a letter to the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance said that the failure to register was due to an "inadvertent oversight" and that she would submit three retroactive registrations to lobby on behalf of Hillsborough Resources Inc.

The company is seeking approval from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to mine coal in the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area.

The Tennessee Ethics Commission is scheduled to discuss Monday whether Ingram, Durham or Hillsborough Resources should be assessed a civil penalty. The maximum penalty for failing to register as a lobbyist is $750 per year, said Drew Rawlins, executive director of the bureau.

Ingram said that while he receives undisclosed consulting pay from Haslam, he doesn't lobby the governor himself.

When an issue comes up for which he has a paid client, "the fir st thing I do is make him aware that the Ingram Group has a client with an interest," he said.

"But I never ask him to do anything special for that client - and he doesn't," he said.

Haslam spokesman David Smith said Ingram's experience provides helpful insight to the governor.

"Governor Haslam hears from a number of people with different perspectives on issues, and he weighs all of it before making a decision," Smith said.

State Democratic Chairman Roy Herron said the situation reminded him of the biblical saying "no man can serve two masters."

Haslam should ensure that "everybody working for the governor is serving one master, and that's the people of Tennessee, and not trying to serve a second master, which is a special interest," Herron said.