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Haslam Faces Formal Ethics Complaint

Haslam Faces Formal Ethics Complaint

By Ben Hall. CREATED Aug 15, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The former chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party has filed a formal ethics complaint against Governor Bill Haslam.

Chip Forrester claims the governor violated campaign finance laws by refusing to disclose how much he paid lobbyist and political consultant Tom Ingram.

Forrester cited several stories from NewsChannel 5 Investigates in his formal complaint.

He was surrounded by cameras as he went to the state Registry of Election Finance to file the complaint.

Forrester alleges Gov. Haslam "failed to disclose a campaign expenditure, the services of political advisor Tom Ingram, which is required by state law."

At a news conference before he filed the complaint, he blasted the governor.

"Governor Haslam is hiding the full extent of his financial relationship with Tom Ingram, his chief campaign consultant and a controversial lobbyist, who represents special interests," Forrester said.

Forrester filed one complaint today.  He said he will mail a second, identical complaint, later this week. 

One complaint will be before The Registry of Election Finance, which oversees campaign finance violations. The other complaint will be before the Tennessee Ethics Commission, which oversees lobbyists.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates first revealed e-mails which showed Ingram did campaign work for the governor while he was on the governor's private payroll.  

In an interview last month, Haslam said Ingram helped set up a re-election planning retreat, but he was not paid for that work.

"Tom did come to a campaign planning event that we did back in November, but everybody there was working for free," the governor said.

Gov. Haslam has refused to say how much he paid Ingram for advice on organizational issues in state government.  He has said it's "personal."

Forrester said the governor has been overly secretive on a number of issues, including his refusal to release his income tax returns.

"It's not just this particular story that concerns me, but this pattern of secrecy and unwillingness to be transparent about what's going on," Forrester said.

Forrester said that he did not coordinate with the Democratic Party and is filing as a concerned citizen.

But a spokeswoman for the Ingram Group questioned Forrester's motive for filing the complaint.

"This is clearly a silly, politically-motivated stunt by Chip to get back into some sort of limelight," the spokeswoman said.

The governor's office said only that Haslam is aware of the filing.

Drew Rawlings, executive director of the Registry of Election Finance and the Ethics Commission, said once each board receives the formal complaint, the members will decided whether to dismiss the complaint or whether to call for a show-cause hearing.

The boards could then invite Haslam or Ingram to speak before the board.  The governor could face a fine if it is determined that he violated the state's campaign finance laws.

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Ben Hall

Ben Hall

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Ben Hall is a veteran reporter at NewsChannel 5. He has covered the state legislature, presidential campaigns and is presently part of NewsChannel 5's award-winning investigative unit.