Tennessee has a problem, and it’s something that many state legislators don’t want to address. It’s a problem that doesn’t grab the headlines like many of the social issues that lawmakers find themselves wrestling with every year, but make no mistake about it, Tennessee has a problem.
And it’s a problem that could impact the outcome of many crucial races for state offices next year.
Tennessee is one of 36 states with campaign finance disclosure laws so weak that so-called “dark money” from outside groups (such as the nonprofit issues-oriented groups and big-spending political action committees that pumped tons of money into the presidential election last year) go unreported in state elections.
The National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Center for Public Integrity released a joint report in May that gives a failing grade to Tennessee’s campaign finance law.
The deficiency in the Tennessee law comes as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. That ruling has led to practically unlimited spending by individuals, corporations and unions in federal races.
What has gone unnoticed by some, however, is how the Supreme Court’s decision impacts states. As a result of weak local regulations, shadowy groups are able to go virtually undetected as they spend big money in state races.
Tennessee lawmakers like to boast of the transparency in the state’s current law, but in this case, more is needed. All outside groups should be required to report where they are spending money on state races.
Anything less is a disservice to the voters of Tennessee.