The Tennessee Ethics Commission declined to fine political adviser Tom Ingram on Wednesday for failing to disclose a lobbying relationship with a coal miner and dismissed a complaint over Ingram's work for Gov. Bill Haslam.
Commissioners refused to penalize Ingram and partner Marcille Durham for not filing paperwork in 2012 and 2013 showing they had been hired to lobby for Hillsborough Resources, a firm hoping to win permission to mine on public land on the Cumberland Plateau.
The decision appears to eliminate the possibility of consequences for the most serious allegation hanging over Ingram following a wave of scrutiny of the Republican strategist's influence over officials in Gov. Bill Haslam's and Mayor Karl Dean's administrations.
Representatives for Ingram and Durham have been trying to persuade the Ethics Commission to dismiss penalties, arguing that they disclosed the relationship after discovering that clerks at their firm, The Ingram Group, made an "inadvertent mistake" by failing to file.
On Wednesday only Commissioner Keith Norman favored a fine, which he suggested setting at $1,000. Norman has argued that Ingram and Durham acknowledged the relationship only after media reports had brought attention to their work for Hillsborough.
Norman's colleagues disagreed, voting 3-1 to dismiss the case. Norman cast the sole "no" vote, with Commissioner Greg Hardeman recusing himself.
Because state law requires that Ethics Commission actions receive four votes to become final, the vote sent the case to a legal limbo. The ethics charges were not dismissed entirely, but they cannot be taken up again unless four commissioners vote to do so.
Separately, the commission decided in private to throw out a complaint from former Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester that alleged Haslam broke state law by not disclosing that he had retained Ingram as a personal adviser after his January 2011 inauguration.
A related complaint filed by Forrester to the Registry of Election Finance, which regulates campaign disclosures, is pending.
A third relationship — The Ingram Group's work on behalf of the ABC television show "Nashville" — has not resulted in any ethics charges.
The firm helped "Nashville" producers secure $500,000 in incentives from the city but did not initially file with the city as a lobbyist.
Executives at the firm said the city clerk's office told them they had to register once legislation was proposed and did so. They said they did not have to register at first because they were gathering information on potential city incentives but not yet lobbying on the show's behalf.