Tennessee Republicans drew criticism Thursday for planning another fundraiser at the governor’s mansion, this time asking for as much as $50,000 from high-dollar contributors.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s press secretary, David Smith, defended the Oct. 3 fundraiser as “not out of the ordinary.” But Democrats said Republicans give the impression that state government is for sale by extracting so much cash from special interests at a political event at the publicly owned Executive Residence.
“This kind of reeks,” said Brandon Puttbrese, state Democratic Party communications.
“Only corporations are going to be able to afford a price tag like that. This is only going to add to the perception that our government is bought and paid for by big corporations.
“And it’s hard to say it’s not true when all these corporations are the ones who wanted the caps on damages to limit their liability. It just stinks up and down,” Puttbrese added, referring to the state’s new tort reform law pushed through the legislature by Republicans in the last session.
The event is to raise 2012 campaign cash for Republican state House and Senate candidates. A contribution of $50,000 admits five people to dinner with the governor and first lady upstairs in the residence.
Tickets to the main event — called the “Taste of Tennessee Ball” — are $2,500 for a couple.
“Invitations will go out within the week. Maintaining our Majority will take a lot of work, and your support is critical to our efforts,” House Republican Caucus chair Debra Maggart said in an email to supporters about the event.
Republicans also were criticized last spring when they took thousands of dollars from special interests and lobbying firms at an event at the mansion, despite a ban on fundraising during legislative sessions.
The fundraiser was legal because the money went to the state Republican Party. While lawmakers can’t accept contributions for their own campaigns during legislative sessions, political parties can raise funds to pay for party operations and certain political activity.
Maggart said Republicans have paid a $2,500 state fee to stage their upcoming fundraiser at the mansion and have every right to raise campaign cash there.
“We have paid the fee. I even have a receipt,” Maggart said. Of the Democrats’ criticism, she said, “That’s interesting because I believe the Democrats have held fundraisers at the residence. Governors through the years have done it.”
Some of the evening’s festivities will take place inside the mansion’s Conservation Hall, a $9 million underground banquet facility that was built by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen and opposed by Republicans as a waste of public money.
Maggart was one of the more outspoken Republicans against the construction but she said, “It would be unrealistic to think that we would boycott [Conservation Hall] forever. It’s there. We might as well use it.”