The Republican establishment must feel like it’s under siege at the moment.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is running hard to prevent a challenge from the right wing of his party.
Gov. Bill Haslam is dealing with the political repercussions of his family business being under FBI investigation while he steadfastly refuses to reveal just what his holdings are in the family business. It is prompting questions about some of his other business dealings.
The family business, Pilot Flying J, is trying to shore up its relationship with hundreds of trucking companies nationwide after being accused of shorting some of them on fuel rebates.
Looking at the situation, I hear the line from the old movie theme song: “Who ya’ gonna call? Ghostbusters!”
Well, the Ghostbuster for millionaire Republicans is Tom Ingram.
Ingram began his career with Alexander in his first term as governor. Over the years he has worked for and helped elect Alexander, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, and Gov. Bill Haslam. But he has to have something to do between political campaigns. The Haslams installed him as head of the Knoxville Chamber at one point, with a lucrative pay package. He has been Alexander’s chief of staff in Washington. He started the Ingram Group to lobby the state Legislature. Sold it. Then came back to it. He is being paid by Bill Haslam as a consultant. He is being paid by Pilot Flying J as a consultant. Should Alexander have a tough primary race, Ingram will no doubt be called on again. Last year he was a highly-paid campaign consultant for Corker, who had no credible opposition.
But this time the “fixer” has some liabilities of his own. He has been discovered to be lobbying for a coal company to get access to the state-owned Catoosa Wildlife Management Area while being a consultant to the governor. And he was not registered as a lobbyist with the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. (Hat tip to the News Sentinel and WTVF-TV Nashville.)
Ingram’s overlapping roles over the years as the go-to campaign consultant, Senate staffer, lobbying and public relations group owner, and personal adviser to the Haslams are a tangled web and no one but Ingram knows where all the strands intersect.
To get his clients out of the current mess, Ingram will have to earn his money.
Ingram’s relationship with the governor and his seeming indifference to the rules requiring him to report his lobbying activity has a whiff of arrogance his clients don’t need at the present time. Failure to file the form was blamed on an oversight by someone at the Ingram Group. But being properly registered is not something you leave to someone else. Unless you are just too special to worry about it.
For three years.
Ingram will no doubt be the consultant for Bill Haslam when he runs for reelection. He remains a consultant to the governor. After the Pilot Flying J troubles, expect more stories to appear about the governor’s business deals and his relationship with Ingram. The Ingram Group represents K12, the only virtual school in the state, while Haslam is in the forefront of developing alternative school models.
There was a story this week, from the Tennessean, about a former business associate of Haslam’s being an investor in a Gatlinburg whiskey distillery that would not be possible without special legislation on Haslam’s desk as of this writing.
Expect more stories of this sort as time goes on.
Ingram is, or has been, the security blanket for Alexander, Corker, and the Haslams.
I don’t expect them to throw him under the bus because of questions arising about his lobbying business. But Pilot Flying J is waiting for another shoe to drop and Bill Haslam’s glide into a second term as governor is starting to hit turbulence. Ingram will have enough to do without dealing with his own personal issues.
Especially if he becomes the issue.