Speaker Harwell: Need to change campaign investment loophole

House Speaker Beth Harwell is working to create legislation that would address lawmakers' ability to invest campaign funds in private companies, and she said she would support new regulations on gifts to lawmakers.

Both issues were raised Sunday in an ongoing Tennessean investigation into Jeremy Durham, who invested in a company owned by Andy Miller, a well-known GOP donor who's given money to the expelled lawmaker in the past. Miller paid for six lawmakers to go on a trip to Europe in 2011 that none of the lawmakers disclosed, nor were they required to disclose under Tennessee law.

Gov. Bill Haslam said through a spokeswoman Monday that he would support additional disclosure of investments.

"The governor believes it is good policy to disclose campaign investments just like personal disclosures made annually to the Tennessee Ethics Commission," said spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals. The personal disclosures require public officials to report any investments worth $10,000 or more.

Harwell, R-Nashville, state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Marvylle, and Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said separately there should be more transparency and regulations when Tennessee public officials invest their campaign funds.

“I do not personally believe campaign contributions should be invested in private companies. I have directed our legal staff to research these issues and work with the Registry of Election Finance to identify the best remedy, so that legislation can be introduced to address it," Harwell said in an email Monday.

"I believe in and support full disclosure and transparency in our campaign finance reports, and will always support legislation to that end. We should always strive to keep up to date on best practices, and I will be supportive of legislation seeking to address increased transparency or regulations on gift-giving or investments."

As speaker, Harwell typically does not introduce legislation but works with leadership on bills.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, agreed there should be more transparency but didn't go as far as to suggest legislation.

"I think it is entirely appropriate that we require full disclosure of a campaign's investments and interests, just as we do for personal interests and investments," the retiring lawmaker said.

"While investments in campaign accounts should be permissible, they should be limited to investments that are public and available to all -- publicly-traded stocks, mutual funds, certificates of deposit, etc. -- to eliminate even the appearance of undue influence."

Both Sexton and Overbey said in different interviews they'd be interested in closing the legal loophole in Tennessee that allows those investments to be shielded from the public.

This story originally appeared on The Tennessean’s website.


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