Registry Dismisses Campaign Complaint Against Haslam

Registry Dismisses Campaign Complaint Against Haslam

By Phil Williams. CREATED Oct 9, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A complaint against Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, accusing him of breaking state law with his payments to a prominent lobbyist, was dismissed Wednesday by the state board that regulates campaign finance.

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance threw out the complaint filed by former state Democratic Party chair Chip Forrester. He had alleged that Haslam broke state law when he did not disclose payments to lobbyist Tom Ingram.

"Everything that a consultant like Tom Ingram does is political and is campaign related," Forrester told reporters. "All of it is about ensuring, from his perspective, that the governor is re-elected."

Campaign expenditures, by law, must be publicly disclosed.

The complaint included reports from NewsChannel 5 Investigates based on emails revealing that Ingram continued to do campaign work -- including attending a "2014 planning retreat" --  while he was on the governor's personal payroll.

Forrester did not attach the emails.

"I don't even know if they exist," Haslam's lawyer, Joseph Woodruff, told the Registry when asked about the emails.

It was a line picked up by Republican appointee Patricia Heim.

"It's been five months ago since this first arose," she said. "I would have hoped the media would have published those emails if they were so inflammatory and compromising."

Those emails have been posted on since July 11th.

Still, Woodruff argued that, even if the emails had been filed, he believed that there was no way that the Registry could find that the governor had broken any campaign laws.

The campaign filed an affidavit from Ingram, stating that he had attended "one meeting" relating to the campaign, but that he was "not compensated" for being there.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Woodruff, "Mr. Ingram was on the governor's payroll when he attended this campaign event. Why should that not be disclosed as a campaign expenditure?"

"Because it wasn't an expenditure," he answered. "He wasn't being paid to be at that event."

Even Democratic appointee Norma Lester expressed doubt about whether there was enough evidence to say that the governor broke the law.

"I could not find where there was any violation as stated in the law, but I can see how there may have been a perception that there was something that was unethical," she said.

The board's chairman suggested that the Registry could have waited a month for Forrester to come up with the emails and any other evidence.

While the board did not go along with that idea, they said that Forrester could file a new complaint if he comes up with more proof.

Forrester said that he's not sure if he will do that.

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Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5's nationally award-winning investigative team. His investigations have earned him journalism's highest honors.