FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Brendan Jennings
February 10, 2014 423-304-4633
TENNESSEE MUNICIPAL LEAGUE SPENDS MILLIONS OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS TO LOBBY LEGISLATORS AGAINST THE INTERESTS OF …. TAXPAYERS
CHATTANOOGA-Tennessee cities send millions of taxpayer dollars to the Tennessee Municipal League, its risk management pool and its bond fund. In return, TML spends millions of these same dollars lobbying state legislators for favorable legislation.
Sounds like a sweet deal for mayors and legislators, right? But what about taxpayers?
TML’s government risk pool is not regulated like private insurance companies that must answer to the state’s insurance commissioner. Instead, the risk pool sends its own annual reports to the Tennessee State Comptroller and annual actuarial assessments to the Department of Commerce and Insurance. In other words, these reports generally receive little state scrutiny and almost no media attention despite the public investment.
An example of these investments are shown in this chart CLICK TO VIEW that includes a sample of 10 cities throughout the state that responded to our open records requests. Some cities purchase their liability, property and workers compensation insurance elsewhere, but still pay membership dues to the TML.
Meanwhile, TML continues to actively lobby state legislators, using taxpayer dollars (along with other sources, including sponsorships by vendors with municipal business ties) without being subject to state sunshine laws. The TML has five paid lobbyists representing them, making sure that legislators who may have forgotten the priorities of the city mayors in their district get the full attention of professional lobbyists who leverage taxpayer funds all they can to get what the TML wants.
The forgotten person in this ethical dilemma seems to be the taxpaying citizen, as taxpayer-funded lobbying strikes at the heart of the fundamental First Amendment freedom of association. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund lobbying for laws and regulations that are against their own interests. For example, TML is actively lobbying against annexation through consent bills currently in the General Assembly. Does it seem ethical for one side to use taxpayer funding to lobby against county residents?
This brings to mind a series of questions:
1. Whom do state legislators listen to first: the mayor of a city of 138,000, a TML lobbyist or taxpaying residents? (In our opinion, legislators would be stupid not to listen to the interests of their mayors, along with other municipal and county elected officials in their districts. Adding in lobbyists to the mix seems like overkill.)
2. Why does the state not conduct regular independent audits of the TML and its associated entities and why is that information not posted for the public, since a large portion of their revenues are from taxpayers?
3. How much does the TML spend on lobbying the state legislature?
4. Isn’t it time for Tennessee to pass a law to outlaw taxpayer-funded lobbying?
Right2VoteTN supports pending legislation to compel more transparency from state organizations at least partially funded by taxpayer dollars.
Right2VoteTN is a not-for-profit community organization that seeks to return to citizens of Tennessee the right to consent to annexation. For more information or updates, follow us at Right 2 Vote Tennessee on Facebook and @right2votetn on Twitter.
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