The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance threw out a complaint against Gov. Bill Haslam that questioned his relationship with political adviser Tom Ingram.
The board responsible for policing the state's campaign finance laws ruled Wednesday that former Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester had failed to show that Haslam had acted illegally by hiring Ingram as a consultant and not disclosing it.
Joseph "Woody" Woodruff, an attorney representing Haslam, presented an affidavit in which Ingram said he had been paid to offer policy advice since the governor's inauguration in January 2011. The registry also rejected Forrester's request to give him more time to file emails that he said would show Ingram had done campaign work.
The Tennessee Ethics Commission, which oversees lobbying in the state, dismissed a related complaint from Forrester about the arrangement in September.
"I think the public has an interest in knowing who is giving counsel to our public officials on policy," board member Patricia Heim said Wednesday. "I just don't think this is the venue for that."
Forrester filed a complaint against Haslam in August following reports that the governor paid Ingram, a top strategist on his 2010 campaign, out of his personal finances to serve as an adviser after he took office.
Haslam said it would have been improper for him to pay Ingram out of his campaign fund for work unrelated to elections. The arrangement also allowed Ingram to take on other clients, some of whom he lobbied for.
Forrester argued that all of Ingram's work was political in nature and should fall under campaign finance law. When the board expressed skepticism, Forrester asked to be given time to present emails released by the governor's office detailing its relationship with Ingram.
In one of those emails, aides to the governor arranged a meeting with Ingram at a Nashville hotel to plan campaign strategy. Ingram said in his affidavit that he attended the meeting as a volunteer.
Led by Heim, a Haslam appointee, the board claimed never to have seen those messages, despite widespread coverage and their publication online. They decided on a 3-1 vote to drop the case.
All three votes to dismiss it came from Republican members. Former state Rep. Henry Fincher, a Cookeville Democrat, was the only member to favor giving Forrester more time.
Maggart, Hardaway cleared
In other business, the registry voted not to punish former House Republican Caucus Chair Debra Maggart for violations involving her personal campaign and her political action committee, Maintaining Our Majority.
Maggart, a Hendersonville Republican, faced two sets of allegations: She was accused of failing to report four contributions totaling $6,300 to her campaign and of donating $1,000 each to two Sumner County candidates within nine days of the November 2012 election.
Maggart said the donations to her campaign had been misclassified by her accountant as a loan. She told the board the mistake had been corrected.
On the other matter, Maggart said her PAC's contributions to Hendersonville Mayor Scott Foster and Hendersonville Alderman Paul Goode actually had been delivered after the blackout on donations ended. They only were dated before the election.
The registry also rescinded a $50 fine it had imposed in August against state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, for not reporting six donations totaling $2,800. Hardaway said he had taken steps to prevent such mistakes in the future.