The Tennessee Ethics Commission declined to fine political adviser Tom Ingram and one of his partners on Wednesday for failing to disclose a lobbying relationship with a coal miner.
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 convince the Ethics Commission to dismiss penalties, arguing that they disclosed the relationship voluntarily after discovering that clerks at their firm, The Ingram Group, "inadvertently" failed 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, instead 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 also cannot be taken up again unless four commissioners vote to do so.