Legislators must report all sources of income

Published 9:03 am Monday, March 30, 2015

As a means of maintaining accountability for its elected officials, Tennessee requires its office holders to report all sources of income to the state ethics commission.

“They must report everything over $1,000,” Tennessee Ethics Commission Director Drew Rawlins said. “It’s about accountability.”

The purpose behind the reports is to see whether elected or appointed officials may have potential conflicts of interest between their personal matters and their public duties, Rawlins said.

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Each year, the state’s elected and appointed officials must file Statement of Disclosure of Interests with the Ethics commission detailing their sources of income, positions held, any investments and other information.

“We’re looking for private sources of income,” Rawlins said. “They don’t have to report any amounts at all, just the source.”

The form filled out by the officials requires them to list income received not only by themselves but also income received by their spouse if they are married.

If the official owns a business, he or she must report that as a source of income. If their business or other employment is at a firm that handles multiple clients, they do not have to list all of their clients, just the name of the firm, Rawlins said.

The form also has them list positions they held during the reporting period, such as any jobs they held or boards they sit on. Officials are required also to report any trusts or investments held in their name or the name of their spouse if they are married, Rawlins said. Like with income, the amount of the investment or account is not required, but the name of the company or trust is, he added.

Officials must also report any close ties they have with individuals who are involved in lobbying efforts.

“They themselves can’t lobby in Tennessee; that’s against the law,” Rawlins said. “It’s more of an informational thing. In the lobbying section of the report, that is for their associates or spouse.”

“That comes into play for the lawyers most frequently,” he added.

For example, if a member of the Legislature is an attorney at a firm, he or she must report any lobbying efforts the firm supports or works for, even if they themselves do not handle that client, Rawlins said.

Officials must also report any retainer fees they receive from any business or organization that participates in lobbying efforts, Rawlins said, adding that is also most often deals with lawyers in elected positions.

The list of state officials who must file a Statement of Disclosure of Interests is extensive and includes members of the state legislature, the governor, members of the governor’s cabinet, the secretary of state, comptroller, treasurer, judges serving on the supreme court or any court of appeals, state attorney general, district attorney generals, public defender, presidents of publicly-funded colleges or universities and a host of other department and agency heads and members.

For example, the Elizabethton Star looked at Statement of Disclosure of Interest Forms for the two state representatives and two state senators who represent Carter County in the state Legislature — Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Sen. Rusty Crowe, Rep. Timothy Hill and Rep. John Holsclaw Jr.

In addition to his salary as the lieutenant governor, Ramsey reported he receives income from Ron Ramsey & Associates, his real estate and auction firm, which he has owned since 1985. Ramsey also reported serving as the director of Dawn of Hope during the annual reporting period.

While he listed no blind trust income, Ramsey did report an investment in the State of Tennessee 401(k) plan. He also reported investments held by him and his wife in AXA Equitable, BehringerHarvard, O.N. Equity, Real Estate, Cole RE Investments, Indus, Income Trust and KBS Strategic.

In his annual report, Crowe listed his income as a state senator as well as his income gained as a contractor with Mountain States Health Alliance. Crowe also reported his wife receives income from Nuclear Fuel Services.

Under investments, Crowe listed his Tennessee 401(k)-TIAA CREF Retirement plan, a Best College Saving Tennessee investment and his wife’s 401(k) Plan from Nuclear Fuel Services.

Under the income section of his report, Hill listed Right Way Marketting LLC, Sterling Strategies and Information Communications Corporation has his sources of income. Right Way Marketing LLC appeared again on the form, also being listed under investments.

Rep. John Holsclaw was elected to the House of Representatives in August of 2014 and so was not required to file a Statement of Disclosure of Interests for 2014.

Those who wish to look at the reports for state or local officials can visit the Tennessee Ethics Commission website at www.tn.gov/sos/tec.