NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) – Very wealthy people, some from out of state, want to help decide who represents you on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill without you knowing.
This issue – experts call it “dark money” – is heating up as lawmakers begin to consider legislation to illuminate these dark places.
FULL STORY: Watch NewsChannel 5 at 6 p.m.
Over the weekend, groups unwilling to disclose who is funding their efforts took to social media to rally their troops and oppose the bill (HB 1201/SB 1005) when it comes to the House local government committee. tuesday.
It’s a problem that former Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, understands well.
“I guess I see it that way,” Overbey said. NewsChannel 5 is investigating.
“Candidates must disclose their donations and expenses. Political action committees must disclose their donations and expenses. And I think other groups that try to influence the outcome of an election should be treated the same.” .”
For 16 years, Overbey was widely considered a reliable conservative in the Tennessee legislature.
That is, until he backed a Republican governor’s plan to expand health care to the uninsured in Tennessee, which quickly put a target on his back.
“A group known as Americans for Prosperity decided to get involved in this race, in this campaign, and sent out direct mail and field troops in the district to go door to door” , remembers Overbey.
Americans for Prosperity was founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
AFP sent teams to the eastern Tennessee district of Overbey in the middle of the Republican primary to get the message across that “Doug Overbey has betrayed the people of Tennessee.”
NewsChannel 5 survey asked, “Do you have any doubt that they wanted to defeat you?”
“Not just to defeat me,” Overbey replied, “but probably to send a message to the other candidates that if you don’t act in concert with us, if you don’t do exactly what we want you to do, it’s what are we going to do to you.”
There were also shippers calling Overbey “Taxpayer Zero”.
But unlike traditional campaigns where voters can find out who is funding them and how much they are spending, funding for Americans for Prosperity was secret.
“It was an accountability effort to inform his constituents of his electoral record,” State Director Tori Venable told AFP. NewsChannel 5 is investigating.
“We never argued for his election or his defeat.”
Overbey laughed off that argument.
“They were doing this in July and August, which was the main campaign season,” he continued.
We noted, “They were using phrases like ‘Doug Overbey betrayed the Tennesseans,’ and yet they weren’t using the magic words.”
“It’s true,” said the former state senator.
“They’re carefully crafted, but certainly why are you saying words like that unless you’re trying to reach an ending – and that ending would try to do me damage.”
Now, in the wake of a scandal involving former House Speaker Glen Casada — including covert attacks on a Republican House member — legislative leaders are pushing campaign finance reforms that groups like Americans for Prosperty denounce as an attempt to “censor” conservative groups.
Disclosure would only be triggered if a group spends more than $5,000 or more in the 60 days before an election on communications that show or mention a candidate.
“We can’t say vote for or vote against somebody. We actually have a PAC to do that,” said Gary Humble, founder of Tennessee Stands, a group that formed in opposition to COVID mandates.
Humble is also running for state senate against Republican Jack Jackson of Brentwood.
“So if I show you a picture of Cameron Sexton and say his name, am I in trouble now if it’s 60 days before an election?” Humble asked in a video posted to social media.
Humble claimed lawmakers were trying to stop his group from telling voters how awful they were in the days leading up to an election.
“God forbid their actions have an impact on whether or not you as voters choose to vote them back to power. Isn’t that something?”
But NewsChannel 5 survey examined the language of the bill, and the idea that it is intended to silence conservatives does not pass the test of truth.
It applies to all groups, conservatives and liberals.
In fact, a study by the nonpartisan research group Open Secrets found that dark money — that money that goes undisclosed — topped more than $1 billion federally in 20-20. Most of that money was spent helping Democrats.
And the proposed legislation does not censor anyone.
It simply requires disclosure of the money spent trying to influence these campaigns.
“Increasing the transparency of money spent on elections is not a limit to speech and does not stop anyone from speaking out,” said Patrick Llewellyn, director of state campaign finance at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. .
Llewellyn said voters have a right to know who pays to get candidates elected or defeated, no matter what words they use.
“Ads that attack or promote a particular candidate during an election season influence elections,” Llewellyn said. NewsChannel 5 is investigating.
We noted: “They can put out a pamphlet saying ‘Legislator X is a horrible person’ without using the words ‘vote against’. In your mind is that the same thing?”
“In my mind,” Llewellyn said, “if an ad attacks or supports a candidate for elected office, it’s an election-related ad.”
Now Americans for Prosperity, the group that took on Doug Overbey with this negative campaign in the middle of an election, is pushing back, saying it “will not be silenced” by this legislation.
Overbey said the disclosure didn’t silence anyone.
“That doesn’t mean they can’t spread their propaganda, but it does at least let the public know who’s involved and how much is being contributed,” he said.
SPECIAL SECTION: Revealed
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