A new Tennessee law makes outside funding to state and local election officials an exception to the rule. Governor Bill Lee signed the bill into law last week – it ensures that select elected officials review all outside funding, if any. It would also enable the public to access information on those outside funds through open records.
This law will apply to both the state and county-level election commissions, the secretary of state, county administrators of elections, and the coordinator of elections. Only combined approval from the state House and Senate speakers would enable state election officials to accept funding from private individuals, corporations, organizations, or political parties. As for county election commissions and administrators of elections, outside funding must be approved by the secretary of state or one of their designees.
Any funding for election information advertising, donating the use of a location for voting purposes, volunteer labor by Tennessee citizens, or nominal items wouldn’t require review.
As The Tennessee Star reported, legislators introduced the bill because of “dark money” that flowed into other states during the 2020 election. State Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), a sponsor on the bill, offered this explanation during the Senate State and Local Government Committee hearing early last month.
“Our goal here is for election integrity, and that is to set some parameters on who can and cannot give money to some of these entities,” explained Roberts. “These might be people who are providing funds from out of state, we call it ‘dark money,’ because there’s really no accountability on it. And we’re trying to prohibit that practice in Tennessee.”
Roberts clarified this “dark money” did reach Tennessee during last year’s election. However, he noted that it didn’t have a significant presence.
“It is not widespread in Tennessee. It did happen in the last election cycle,” said Roberts.
The governor’s office didn’t respond to request for comment from The Star by press time.
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