Tennessee House committee passes amended campaign financial reporting bill | Tennessee

(The Center Square) — A campaign finance reform bill regarding expense reports, political action committees (PACs), and 501(c)(4) nonprofits passed Tuesday by the Tennessee House Local Government Committee with amendments.

The amendments on House Bill 1201 were presented during the meeting and were not posted. They differ, however, from amendment to the accompanying invoice SB 1005, which is on the agenda for the full Senate on Wednesday. The House bill will be forwarded to the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

the Senate Version of the bill would add reporting requirements for all donations and expenses for statewide candidates and also for those with $1,000 or more in local election contributions or expenses.

These reports would then be forwarded to the state campaign transparency website.

The Senate bill would also add requirements for PACs, where any PAC that registers with the state must register with agents using a valid government ID.

The House’s amended version of the bill, however, would require PACs to report any contributions or expenses over $1,000, including the full name and address or recipient organization.

The House version removes a $100 threshold for candidate expenses and requires the full name and address of anyone “to whom an expense was paid” during the qualifying period. It also increases the amount of documents applicants must keep in case of an audit in odd-numbered years.

The House version also adds requirements on separating PAC and candidate funds and prevents a PAC from paying fines to candidates. It also indicates that members of the governor’s cabinet cannot be paid as consultants.

Both versions of the bill added increased reporting requirements for 501(c)(4) nonprofits, stating that the nonprofit is “deemed to be a political campaign committee for the purposes of statement of expenses” if the organization spends at least $5,000 on communications with the name or likeness of a candidate within 60 days of an election.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton addressed the stipulation, saying it didn’t require nonprofits to reveal donors or contributors and it was about “transparency and accountability.”

“This bill is nothing more than a reporting or disclosure mechanism,” Sexton said.

Several committee members said they received calls about the nonprofit stipulations.

“It allows for the same level of transparency of those over $5,000 that this body and PACs need to operate,” said Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville.

A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, such as the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, or Habitat for Humanity cannot engage in political activity. A 501(c)(4) nonprofit, however, can.

Tennessee’s Beacon Center is a 501(c)(3) while its defense arm Beacon Impact is a 501(c)(4) and so are Tennessee Stands and Americans for Prosperity.

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