Weekly Obsession: Dean's Super PAC

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 10:05pm

It may have been grassroots, but they sure did spend a lot of money on the seed.

For officeholders in an off cycle, the midyear financial disclosure is usually a dry list of piddly payouts and loan reconciliations. The last election is in the rearview, the next barely a gleam on the horizon.

And that’s part of what made a $26,000 entry in the debit line of Mayor Karl Dean’s ledger so interesting.

The mayor’s campaign wrote the big check — and let’s face it, with no significant opposition in his last run and term limits stopping another, the mayor had plenty of money to throw around — to Moving Nashville Forward, the so-called grassroots organization designed to gin up support for Dean’s property-tax increase proposal.

There’s no way of knowing how much money the group raised in total — it was not organized as a political organization, so it doesn’t have to file a disclosure — but the group’s leader, former Metro Councilman Erik Cole, admitted the $26,000 represented the “majority” of its funding.

Cole insists the support Moving Nashville Forward had was genuine — even if the money came from on high — with its chamber-filling coalition of business leaders, teachers and other Metro employees. While the Dean campaign cut the big check, it was just folks who did the leg work, he said.

The mayor’s increase — which passed the Council on a 32-8 vote — was under no real threat of being defeated, frankly, which makes one wonder how much of that effort was just-for-show fondant and how much was real cake.

There were, Cole insists, other donors. Who are they? Well, he’ll tell us. Eventually.

Or will he?

Cole said he intends to create Moving Nashville Forward as a 501(c)(4) — the Jan Brady of the 501(c) portion of the tax code. These types of groups are, under the law, “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” and, unlike their more famous sister the 501(c)(3), can lobby for legislation.

For years, 501(c)(4) groups were forgotten, beloved only by the persnickety secretary-treasurers of neighborhood associations. But, thanks to a handful of judicial decisions, they have a fancier name — Super PACs. And that gives them a special status: They are under no obligation to release the names of their donors.

If Cole follows through on his promise to create this 501(c)(4) — and it’s curious Moving Nashville Forward wasn’t organized before now — Hizzoner will have sown the seeds indeed: not just for grassroots tax-increase support, but for unlimited expenditures for any future political aspirations.    

4 Comments on this post:

By: Nashvillesanity on 8/1/12 at 6:29

Moving Nashville Forward is a puppet organization with Karl Dean acting as the puppet master. Its clear he wanted an organization to stage support for the tax increase, so with a simple call to his inner circle and a pen stroke he created one.

Political influence is about controlling information and perception. Here the Dean administration provided enough shadow cover for the 38 council members who rubber-stamped a tax increase that just happened, amazingly, to be slightly less than what would trigger a public referendum - despite having "popular support" for the measure.

In today's political arena its better to be well-funded than supported by a consensus of your constituents on specific issues. As long as you can keep them distracted, uninterested, and/or misinformed you will keep a firm hold on power and policy. By any measure its another resounding win and demonstration of unbridled political power by Mayor Dean.

By: govskeptic on 8/1/12 at 6:35

Eric Cole is a want to be player in City Politics. That's what serving on the
Council, as a puppet during that time frame as well, gets into one's blood.
As a sideline, it might provide a client or two to the law firm one represents!

By: GuardianDevil01 on 8/2/12 at 3:41

Unfortunately by the time most Nashvillians see through Boss Dean's agenda and the "grassroots support" behind it he will be term limited out of local politics. Cole probably expects to take over the local machine. The #1 priority of anyone who desires a fiscally responsible and ethical local government is the revision of the Metropolitan Charter. Currently the mayor's office holds way too much power in relation to the Metro Council.

By: EDUNITED on 8/2/12 at 6:28

Mayor Dean's donation is a great example of the need for transparency and public finance reform. I don't care if he wrote the check, but I want immediate public disclousure via the internet with civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance.

Ed vanVoorhees