Their vision: a domed facility that could cost more than $2 billion.
Like a field team, the organization put together a team of 15 lobbyists to help them move the legislative ball across the goal line.
Among the lobbyists: the wife of the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the daughter of the State Commissioner for Tourism Development.
This pressure effort is the latest example, revealed Channel Five Investigations, This reveals how the lines between public interest and personal interest can blur on Capitol Hill, Tennessee.
“Such attitudes can further erode faith and trust in government,” said Aaron Sherb, director of legislative affairs for the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause.
“Certainly, nepotism or this form of nepotism, if not always illegal, certainly looks and smells bad to the public.”
In the case of the Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Bo Watson, R. Hickson, holds one of the most powerful positions in the state Senate. Any legislation relating to state money is forced to pass through his committee, including the Titans legislation.
So how does Senator Watson deal with conflicts between the public’s business and his wife’s business?
NewsChannel 5 are investigating He applied to Senator Watson, hoping to sit down with us to discuss these questions.
Then we waited.
For a week, we heard nothing.
So, finally, we catch up with the Hamilton County Republican outside the Senate hearing for what could turn into a quick conversation.
We asked, “Should the public care about relationship ethics?”
“There are rules in place for our type of relationship, and I follow them all.”
NewsChannel 5 are investigating Pressing, “Are you disqualifying yourself from the legislation you’re lobbying for?”
“Well, she doesn’t pressure me,” said Watson, “first of all, and the law doesn’t require it.”
In fact, the wedding announcement, which was published in The New York Times , She describes how Nicole Osbourne and Beau Watson met on their first day at a lobbying job, and it was love at first sight.
State records the year before their marriage show that she had only three clients.
Right before their wedding, she was hired by a big lobbying firm with a roster full of big-name companies.
We asked Watson, “Her client base has increased exponentially since marriage. Is this a coincidence?”
He replied, “I don’t know anything about that.” “I do not know who their customers are.”
While Watson has claimed that he does not track his wife’s clients, senators are required – under the so-called Rule 13 – to disclose when they have a personal dispute.
“My wife has a memorandum of understanding with her company, which she says she cannot and will not pressure me on any issue,” Watson continued.
“We go beyond the rules to make sure we comply with everything that is required of us.”
“There is kind of a definitive way around this kind of verbal voluntary agreement,” Aaron Sherb of Common Cause noted.
While the financial chief’s wife may not pressure him personally, people know the connection when she comes calling, as do the clients who pay her.
“So even if this significant other isn’t lobbying directly, there are certainly plenty of other ways lobbyists can influence a state legislator, even if they aren’t lobbying directly,” Sherp said.
Even if Senator Watson’s wife was paid to pressure him, there is clearly no law in Tennessee against this.
NewsChannel 5 are investigating Watson asked, “Are you able to benefit from relationship and from stress relationships?”
“No, if there’s a bill involved, the rules require me to declare Rule 13, which I do,” Watson said.
We noted, “Which means you can still vote on it.”
The senator replied, “As any other member of any kind of conflict would.” This is why the Senate applies this rule.”
But when we examined Watson’s votes on Titans legislation, we couldn’t find examples where he publicly declared his struggle.
Then, there’s Tourism Development Commissioner Mark Ezell, whose daughter turned schoolteacher into hiring to lobby for a host of tourism-related businesses, including the Titans.
A spokesperson for the commissioner insisted he keep his job separate from his daughter’s.
“Commissioner Ezel had no role in changing his daughter’s employment,” company spokeswoman Amanda Murphy said in an email.
“The department conducts business in accordance with state law, and the commissioner does not discuss business with family members.”
Another Titans lobbyist, Megan Lane, is married to Justin Lane, Deputy Director of Communications for Governor Bill Lee.
Then there’s outgoing Health Commissioner Lisa Percy’s chief of staff.
Valerie Nagoshiner’s husband, Jeremy, is a Walmart registered lobbyist.
Last year, management agreed to a deal where Walmart first acquired some COVID treatments, though the spokesperson insisted the chief of staff had nothing to do with that arrangement.
“Our employees adhere to state ethics standards including following Executive Order No. 2, which requires additional ethical obligations for employees in addition to those required by law,” Law spokesperson Bill Christian said in an email.
To this end, Ms. Nagoshiner disclosed her husband’s contractual relationship with Walmart as part of the annual ethics disclosure requirements. Furthermore, she was never part of discussions on any Walmart-related topics.
Aaron Sherb, the Common Cause Officer, noted that “pressure is a constitutionally protected right. So any kind of law or legislation that is introduced should be done with great caution.”
Earlier this year, state Senator Janice Pauling, R-Tulauma, introduced a bill to prevent relatives from lobbying the legislature.
Two weeks later, Pauling abruptly withdrew the bill.
“This was a request, and it wasn’t appropriate legislation,” Pauling said. NewsChannel 5 are investigating.
We asked: Is it a request from the leadership?
She replied, “It happened a long time ago.”
As for Senator Watson, he insisted that there was no problem with his wife being paid by special interests as long as he disclosed it.
“Other people in the government have to do the same disclosures. So do I.”
NewsChannel 5 are investigating He told Watson, “But some ethics watchers say it still represents a conflict of interest.”
He replied, “Well, I don’t agree.”
“I follow Senate rules. I’m the chair of the Rules Committee. I follow Senate rules.”
Many years ago, there was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Jimmy Nayfeh, and his wife was a powerful lobbyist.
Like now, the Speaker of the House insisted that this would not affect his decisions. However, in those days, Republicans repeatedly expressed concerns about the morals of all this.
Special Section: Reveal
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