National conservative groups are focusing their activities (and money) on Tennessee, and I find that very odd:
Most prominent in enhanced spending are three national organizations that have dramatically expanded their Tennessee activity within the past three years:
* Americans for Prosperity, based in Arlington, Va., was founded and — at least initially — mostly funded by businessmen and philanthropist brothers David and Charles Koch with the proclaimed aim of advocating for free enterprise. AFP’s Tennessee operation reported spending more than $1.1 million in Tennessee lobbying last year. AFP reported spending less than $10,000 in all prior reports filed with the Tennessee Ethics Commission since it became active within the state in 2012. AFP reported no explicitly political spending, but state Director Andrew Ogles says the lobbying report covers “educational” ads that sometimes criticized or supported legislative candidates.
* The American Federation for Children, based in Washington, D.C., advocates education reforms involving “school choice” for parents. The AFC’s state organization reported spending between $75,000 and $150,000 on Tennessee lobbying in 2014 to the Ethics Commission and reported a total of $606,345 in political spending by the political action committee set up by its state affiliate, the Tennessee Federation for Children, to the state Registry of Election Finance during the 2014 election cycle, including 2013. The state PAC was launched in 2012.
* StudentsFirst, based in Sacramento, Calif., and founded by Michelle Rhee, a former District of Columbia school superintendent, also advocates expanded options for education, including school vouchers. The organization reported spending between $100,000 and $200,000 on lobbying in 2014 — plus a $13,907 reception for legislators — and reported spending of $573,917 within the state during the 2014 election cycle by its state PAC, which was launched in 2012. (Rhee was formerly married to Kevin Huffman, who served four years as Tennessee’s education commissioner.)
These groups set up shop in Tennessee fairly recently and started building a “grass roots” network of state resident members, although much of their funding still comes from outside the state — substantial chunks of money transferred from national headquarters in the case of StudentsFirst and AFC.
The article also mentions other national conservative groups actively lobbying in Tennessee, such as the National Rifle Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In addition to lobbying, I know that all of these groups have been buying up beaucoups amount of local TV air time, too — at least in the Nashville market.
And I find this very odd. Republicans have a supermajority in Tennessee. Our legislature is as hard-right, Teanutty wackadoodle as it comes. Why do the Koch Brothers and Michelle Rhee need to set up an office here and spend over a million dollars in one year lobbying a Republican legislature already friendly to their ideas? Why devote so much time and money and energy to a state that should be a gimme? Shouldn’t they be focusing this kind of intensity on more “purple” states where they could make some headway, not a deep-red state where they’ve ostensibly won the fight?
How is this not a sign of retreat? Would like to hear your thoughts on this.
Oh, and this from the article made me laugh:
But Harwell said legislators can be trusted to look to the interests of their constituents, not of the lobbyists.
Riiight. Harwell is the one who voted “present” instead of “no” on controversial guns-in-parks legislation, even though she said “my district doesn’t want it.” Great representation, lady.
Related: A Heartfelt Breakup Letter to Tennessee: This Is Why I’m Leaving.