The National Rifle Association denounces an effort to compel black money groups to disclose campaign spending in Tennessee. The bill sponsored by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), seeks to require 501(c)(4) groups to report any overspending to $5,000 before the election.
The NRA says the legislation as written could confuse nonprofits and campaign finance regulators. State Director Matt Herriman also said the bill resulted in the names of donors being made public, despite assurances from sponsors to the contrary. Some of the issues were resolved in an amendment to the bill introduced by the House Finance Subcommittee on Tuesday (after the letter was sent), but the gun rights group still has concerns.
Here is the letter from the NRA:
Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee Members
SUBJECT: Senate Bill 1005/House Bill 1201: Campaigns and Campaign Finance
Dear President Hicks and Committee Members:
On behalf of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its hundreds of thousands of members in Tennessee, I write to express our strong opposition to Senate Bill 1005 (SB 1005) and Senate Bill 1201 (HB 1201 ). To be clear, we oppose this legislation as passed in the Senate and with today’s proposed amendment #017654.
SB 1005/HB 1201 is akin to efforts by states like California and New York to require 501(c)(4) companies to disclose their private donor information. Disclosure of this type of information can potentially subject donors to undue harassment.
If this legislation is enacted in this form (even with the proposed amendment), 501(c)(4) will have a hard time anticipating what agencies and courts will interpret it.
The amended legislation provides that if 501(c)(4) incur qualifying expenses, they must “report the expenses, pursuant to § 2-10-105(c)(1) and (h),” and appoint a treasurer . (which is normally only required of political committees). As the law currently stands, reporting pursuant to § 2-10-105(c)(1) includes disclosure of expenses and contributions. Even with the amendment, there is a danger that a court could use the requirement to “report…in accordance with -105(c)(1)” to read a donor disclosure requirement into the amendment.
In addition, the amended wording also requires groups to “declare expenses, in accordance with [-105(h)].” Nothing in § 2-10-105(h) has anything to do with the reporting of expenses. This language is not clear. This seems to open the door even wider for a court to insert a donor disclosure requirement into the bill.
For the purposes of Chapter 10, the definition of an expense is an expense, “for the purpose of influencing action or appointment for the election or election of any person to public office…” Tenn. Ann.Code § 2-10-102(6)(A). The expenditures that would trigger the new requirements of this bill are not limited to expenditures for the purpose of influencing an election. Expenditures unrelated to the election, including but not limited to basic lobbying communications, could trigger obligations to report and appoint a treasurer. This creates the very real prospect that groups like the NRA could spend $5,000 on legislative or similar communication, incur obligations to file reports and appoint a treasurer, and yet have no “expenses” to report according to the relevant definition.
It’s also unclear over what period of time the eligible $5,000 must be spent to trigger the bill’s obligations. Is it $5,000 in a quarter? In a calendar year? By election (primary, general, special, second round, etc.)? By electoral cycle? Or should a group track eligible spend for an indefinite period of years and start reporting once total spend has reached the threshold?
Finally, it is unclear how far the requirement to declare and maintain a treasurer’s record will extend. Nothing in the bill seems to specify when the obligation to keep the records ends.
In summary, the bill (even with the amendments) fails to answer some of the most fundamental questions it raises. If enacted, this legislation will be a mess for the election finance registry, the courts, and the regulated community, including the NRA and countless other advocacy groups. Its final effects could be significantly different from what was intended.
For the foregoing reasons, the NRA respectfully opposes Senate Bill 1005/HB 1201.
Tennessee State Director