Ethics complaint filed against Gov. Haslam

Friday, August 16, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 33

NASHVILLE (AP) - Former state Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester is bringing ethics and campaign-finance complaints against Gov. Bill Haslam for failing to disclose how much he has paid his former chief campaign strategist for political advice in the years following the 2010 election.

Forrester told reporters on Thursday that the Republican governor should be required to disclose what he called "secret payments" to Tom Ingram, a GOP operative and lobbyist. Haslam paid Ingram out of personal funds for advice on organizational and political matters following the election, but only this summer decided to place him back on his re-election campaign payroll.

"Gov. Haslam is hiding the full extent of his financial relationship with Tom Ingram," Forrester said. "He is running for a second term as the leader of this state, but he is asking us to trust him on his secret relationship with a high-powered, special-interest lobbyist."

A spok esman said the governor was aware of the complaints but offered no further comment.

Rachel Albright, a spokeswoman for The Ingram Group, dismissed the complaint.

"This is clearly a silly, politically motivated stunt by Chip to get back into some sort of limelight," she said in a statement.

Forrester alleges that Ingram's past paid advice to the governor should count as a campaign expenditure that must be disclosed to the Tennessee Registry of Campaign Finance.

Ingram faces separate Ethics Commission proceedings over his failure to register as a lobbyist for a coal company seeking to mine on public lands. At a hearing earlier this month, a lawyer for Ingram, a colleague and their client, Hillsborough Resources, explained that it was an inadvertent oversight and they submitted both registration papers and fees for the missing years.

Ingram is also the chief media strategist for Pilot Flying J, the Haslam family-owned truck stop chain under federal investigation for defrauding its customers. The governor's brother, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, is Pilot's CEO. And one of the privately-held company's board members, Mike Loya, is the CEO of Hillsborough's parent company.

Gov. Haslam has said Ingram doesn't lobby him personally, that he doesn't know Loya and he has not been involved in the negotiations to mine coal in the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area near Crossville.