With the latest campaign financial reports comes news that Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis is trying to buy an election. (I know, I know, we’re supposed to be moving on to a new topic here at Pith
, but I just can’t stop myself.)
In the first three months of the year, 34 Waller Lansden attorneys gave one of the firm’s partners, Mike Stewart, $26,000, or 40 percent of his total haul in the race to succeed Rob Briley in the state House. (Thanks to the City Paper
for adding that up.) And despite his big financial advantage, Stewart feels compelled to attack the other guy on the ballot, Eric Stansell, who has raised only around $3,000 from contributors.
Trying to tarnish Stansell’s Democratic credentials, Stewart is pointing out that Stansell voted in a 1992 Republican presidential primary. Stansell was 19 at the time, and he thinks he voted for the first Bush in that primary.
In addition, there’s a whisper campaign against Stansell raising questions about his work as a staff attorney for the state Department of Commerce and Insurance from 2002-06. While there, he briefly dealt with consumer complaints against the controversial Trip Assured
. Despite dozens of complaints that the company was cheating old folks out of vacation insurance money, it took the department three years to do anything about it, and there were accusations that the state was dragging its feet because of Bob and Mary Clement’s ties to Trip Assured’s owner. Mary Clement runs the department’s Division of Consumer Affairs, which received the complaints. Stansell is tight with the Clements.
Stansell tells Pith
he was involved with the case only for a few months. During that time, he says, he pursued information from Trip Assured on behalf of consumers. Did he give favorable treatment to Trip Assured because of its political connections? “Absolutely not,” Stansell says.
“My involvement was pretty minimal,” he says. “On that particular issue because of my friendship with Mary, I was very careful to wall myself off completely. In fact, I never discussed it with Mary at all.”
Stansell thinks Stewart is on the attack because he’s worried about losing. “I’ve been going door to door for four months now meeting a whole lot of folks, and I feel pretty confident, I really do,” Stansell says. “If the best they can do is essentially try to assail me for a vote that I took in 1992 when I was a high school senior and try to link me to something that I only worked on for a few months as a normal case … that’s just comical almost.”
As I was writing this post, Stansell fired back at Stewart in a press release:
“My opponent is using one vote I cast 16 years ago to paint me as a Republican. I was a high school student at the time from a very Republican area in East Tennessee. Since then, for over 15 years, I have voted consistently Democratic. It is important to focus on the positions and affiliations of both me and my opponent today. I interned in The White House under President Bill Clinton, I have supported Democratic candidates and campaigns, and I have built a career working for the people of Tennessee, advocating for consumer rights.
“In contrast, my opponent has built his career representing polluters like ExxonMobil and Eastman Chemical (obtaining a tax refund of $1.3 million), has been a registered lobbyist for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and has been a voice for big business in our state. Additionally, he has surrounded himself with like-mined people, including taking contributions from attorneys who represent big business interests against the consumers of Tennessee, and enlisting the aid of a Campaign Treasurer that has actively supported Republican candidates in Tennessee. Finally, Republicans have already shown their preference for my opponent by supporting him overwhelmingly at a recent Davidson County Republican straw poll.”
None of this is good news for Stewart. The less media attention to this race, the better for him. He would have preferred to waltz to victory without many voters ever finding out that he has spent his career working for a law firm that represents toxic polluters and big businesses looking to dodge taxes.