Rep. Holt to file bill curtailing 'excess' at legislative recept - WSMV News 4

Rep. Holt to file bill curtailing 'excess' at legislative receptions

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A lawmaker announced his plans to file a bill addressing legislative receptions following a Channel 4 I-Team investigation.

Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said his legislation will protect taxpayers and strike back against a culture of “excess.”

Legislative receptions are a way for lobbyists, special interest groups and corporations to meet with lawmakers.

The I-Team reported that disclosed spending for legislative receptions and events had hit an all-time high in 2016 at more than $960,000.

More than two-thirds of those events occurred during the legislative session, when laws are actually being passed and considered.

These events are permissible under law as long as groups invite the entire General Assembly and spend less than $61/person. However, organizations are not required to disclose how many people actually attend.

The I-Team found the cost of some events jumped above $50,000. The most expensive event, hosted by Southwest Airlines, cost nearly $114,000.

Groups must disclose how much money they spend, but Holt said they should also reveal the source of that funding.

“Hanging out with celebrities and drinking fancy cocktails may be fun, but it doesn't add anything to the legislative process,” Holt said. “The taxpayers of Tennessee expect and deserve better.”

Holt said his bill would strengthen Tennessee’s lobbying ethics laws by looking at which receptions rely on taxpayer dollars.

To be clear, most of the organizations that have hosted events in 2016 and in 2017 are private groups, which means tax dollars were not used.

One event that did tap into public funds was a reception hosted by Metro government last week at Ryman Auditorium honoring members of the General Assembly.

Stars from the show, Nashville, performed at the party that followed Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State address.

Sean Braisted, a spokesman for Mayor Megan Barry’s Office, said private funds mostly paid for the reception, but approximately $5,000 of taxpayer money covered food expenses.

“The event at the Ryman, which was funded mostly by private dollars, was a great opportunity for Metro to build stronger relationships with our state lawmakers as the legislative session begins and we advocate for policies and programs at the state level that will benefit the taxpayers of Davidson County and keep Nashville moving forward,” Braisted wrote in a statement.

Holt said he’s still finalizing the language on the bill but told the I-Team he has already received support for the measure.

While the West Tennessee lawmaker acknowledged he does not drink alcohol, which is regularly served at legislative receptions, he denied that being his motivation for the bill.

“That’s definitely not the case,” Holt said. “I’m not here as an advocate for prohibition. I’m here as an advocate for taxpayers and my sole purpose in bringing this forward is recognizing taxpayers out there and their money being used each and every day in ways they may not agree with.”

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