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VOL. 37 | NO. 15 | Friday, April 12, 2013

Bill increasing campaign contribution limits fails

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NASHVILLE (AP) - A bill that would have done away with the reporting requirements for direct corporate contributions to Tennessee political candidates has failed in the House.

The bill also would have allowed insurance companies to contribute, and it would have raised the cap on the amount of money that party caucuses can donate to candidates. The limit for statewide elections would jump from $374,300 to $500,000. For state Senate candidates, the limit would increase from $59,900 to $150,000. For the state House or other state or local offices it would increase from $30,000 to $75,000.

That means candidates would have to rely less on contributions from individuals and could be bankrolled by the parties.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin, who sponsored the bill, said it was intended to increase free speech.

"Candidates have to have a way to communicate with the voters," Casada said, noting that it costs mon ey to place advertisements on television and in the newspapers and to send mail to voters.

Current law allows corporations to contribute directly to candidates, but they are treated as political action committees and must disclose the contributions. Under the bill, the contributions would be disclosed only by the candidates, not the corporations.

Several members expressed concerns that the bill would give the perception that the General Assembly was allowing money to influence politics.

"I don't want the people of this state to think we can be bought, and this gives that appearance," said Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga.

Some members took offense at those comments.

"We are not bribable," Casada said.

Favors countered that "The federal prisons are full of people like us who were bribed."

The bill failed to receive the 50 votes needed to pass, but did receive a majority in the 48-41 vote. Because of that, the bill is not technically de ad and could be brought up again.

Nine Republicans did not cast votes on the bill, including House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville. Another 13 Republicans voted against it.