Disclose Campaign Contributions Online 

Internet users can pay their taxes, buy mood- and libido-altering pharmaceuticals, check out their neighbors’ property values, purchase homes, read court opinions from coast to coast and even meet future spouses online.

But legislators in Tennessee have made damn sure we can’t access information about state and local campaign contributions on the Web. Makes about as much sense as banishing wine sales from grocery stores—another little gift from the Tennessee General Assembly. Thanks, guys.

In fact, it’s even worse than that. As it turns out, Tennessee is the only state in the country where those who want to know where Candidate Joe and Lawmaker Sue got their political financing have to appear at a public building, sign their name to a document and write down their driver’s license number, and where state lawmakers are then notified in writing when someone inspects their campaign disclosures. The rules amount to intimidation and obstruction. Clearly—and virtually no one disputes this—the intent is to keep the public from accessing the information by making it difficult and inconvenient to obtain.

Metro Council member Mike Jameson is on a crusade to change all that, and though his efforts appeared doomed a few weeks ago by the probably ill-motivated efforts of a few colleagues, he may now be well on his way. At press time this week, the ink-stained wretches at the Scene were optimistic that his resolution asking the state legislature for Metro discretion on this issue would overwhelmingly pass the council. If we wake up to news otherwise, we may just be forced to gather and post campaign finance disclosures of Metro Council members on our Web site.

All Jameson wants to do is post public information on the Web, and dispense with this ridiculous exercise of having to identify yourself just to see whether your lawmaker is in bed with the insurance industry or the liquor lobby or Gaylord Entertainment or whomever. Even if the Tennessee General Assembly won’t change the rules for accessing public information for state officials, its members could grant Metro the authority to make commonsense changes to finance disclosures on the local level. We strongly urge them to do so when they convene back on the Hill early next year.

Having considered this issue for some time now, and heard discussion about it from every angle, we think it’s safe to say that there’s not a single compelling argument against Jameson’s proposal. The fact that Tennessee is uniquely guarded about the release of campaign finance information speaks directly to this point. Protestations, then, can only be regarded as pathetic attempts to obscure the truth about the flow of money in politics.

State legislators should remember this when Jameson comes looking for their support.

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