It’s been a few weeks since my last post on the $1000 State Sen. Stacey Campfield tried to squeeze out of entertainer and author Del Shores for the luxury of debating Campfield on his Don’t Say Gay bill.
In that time, the bill has moved through the State Senate and is scheduled for a vote in that body tomorrow. Whether or not the House will move on the bill is an open question, though some think they may not make it this year.
National media attention came and went, but the issue of Campfield’s “ask” for $1000 to debate a bill he both authored and is sponsoring remains an open question.
Tom Humphrey explored the possibility of an ethical problem with Sen. Campfield’s “ask”, but in the absence of a formal complaint, the details were essentially dodged, and unfortunately, the Senator was not called to the carpet on that dodge.
Until just recently, any complaint filed against a candidate, elected official, or lobbyist would have gone unheard due to the lack of a quorum on the State Ethics Commission. In talking to that office yesterday, I learned that House Speaker Beth Harwell has appointed her two members of the Commission, meaning that should an ethics complaint be filed, the Commission could now hear it once the new appointees have gone through a mandatory training.
As of this writing, Governor Haslam has yet to nominate anyone to the two seats his office is tasked with appointing.
While the national media attention has faded, the public concern over Sen. Campfield’s ask for financial consideration to debate Mr. Shores has not. That concern, still simmering underneath the shift in national stories, has caused a buzz about the filing of an actual complaint against Campfield. However, the actual status of any potential complaint may not be known publicly for some time due to the process by which a complaint is handled.
The complaint process is somewhat complicated, and the beginning rounds are completely confidential. This may cause some concern about the integrity of the process, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, a citizen must file a sworn complaint form and have it notarized. The complaint must be delivered via mail or private courier (FedEx, UPS, etc.). Upon receipt of a complaint, only the complainant and the accused are notified. The complaint is then presented confidentially to the Tennessee Ethics Commission. At that time the Commission makes a determination about the complaint and either dismisses it, or sends it on to the State Attorney General.
At this point, the complaint is still confidential, though both the complainant and accused are notified via mail at each step in the process.
If the complaint is sent to the Attorney General’s office, a determination will be made as to whether or not a statute within the jurisdiction of the State Ethics Commission has bee violated. That report is then forwarded back to the Ethics Commission. If the AG believes a law has been violated, the ethics commission may hold a public hearing on the issue. It is not until this point that the names of the complainant and accused are disclosed publicly.
There are concerns about a process that is basically closed until the very end, but this, as with many things, requires a delicate balancing act between the rights of the public, and the presumed innocence of the accused. While a completely open process would provide a level of public disclosure, it may also cause the Commission to be used for solely political purposes chasing false claims down rabbit holes. What would invariably happen is the process would be abused to score political points on candidates or elected officials. By keeping the beginning of the process closed, you protect people from having their names being unnecessarily dragged through the mud.
On the other hand, because there is a stiff penalty for false claims, notifying the public that a complaint had been heard and either disposed of, or referred to investigation, balances the needs of the public, and the presumed innocence of the accused. A disposed claim could be a bonus for a candidate who has been targeted by an opponent. Disclosure of a claim under investigation, though not necessarily the details, would be a heavy threat that would deter candidates from acting out of line.
Unfortunately, that’s not the system we have in place.
So has someone filed a complaint against Sen. Campfield? Only the Senator and any potential complainant actually know, but based on what I’ve heard privately, it’s a done deal.
What will come of it? Who knows? There’s a lot of process between now and public disclosure, but I’m sure that since the good Senator is such an open, honest, and ethical guy he’ll be willing to fully discuss the matter.