By Chas Sisk / The Tennessean
Gov. Bill Haslam defended his ties to political adviser Tom Ingram on
Tuesday after published emails showed the lobbyist's efforts to
influence senior officials in his administration.
Haslam and his chief of staff, Mark Cate, said Ingram and his firm had no special access to the governor or his advisers.
emails obtained and released by WTVF-TV show Cate, Ingram and his
partner discussing the firm's clients over weekends and holidays, as
well as when Cate was traveling in the Bahamas. They also show Cate
asking Ingram for help in getting a relative a job in Washington, D.C.
has said he paid Ingram out of his own pocket after taking office in
2011 to provide only "organizational advice," a claim that one email
seems to cast some doubt on.
Haslam did not deny that Ingram had
lobbied his staff while also being kept on retainer, but he said those
efforts were not inappropriate.
"The question is, did anything happen there that shouldn't have happened?" Haslam said. "I don't think it has."
Cate also defended his relationship with Ingram.
get requests every day from people that know us and from people all
across the state that I have no idea of," Cate said. "I feel like part
of my job is to get them in contact with the right person. ... That
happens four or five times everyday."
Ingram and Marcille Durham,
the Ingram Group's president and the author of several of the messages,
declined a request for an interview.
"As a 30 year old business
this year, we are proud to have had strong relationships with five
administrations, representing both parties," Ingram said through a
spokeswoman. "We have always felt very fortunate to have these
relationships and treated them with the greatest respect."
emails deal with a range of topics, from for-profit education to the
state lottery. Much of the correspondence deals with problems faced by
companies on whose behalf Ingram and his firm, The Ingram Group, have
registered to lobby.
In one set of emails, Durham and Ingram asked
Cate to intervene in an enforcement action pending against HR Comp
Employee Leasing LLC, a client facing punishment for offering staff
leasing services without a license and then giving false testimony about
it to investigators.
Durham tells Cate in a message sent shortly
before 6 p.m. on March 28, 2012, that HR Comp is on the verge of laying
off 27 people because the Department of Commerce and Insurance is
considering an "action that is driving her (owner Andrea Ball) out of
Cate replies three hours later, at 9:06 p.m., that he
has spoken with Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak and is "optimistic we can
find a resolution."
The department eventually required owner Ball
to pay a $10,000 fine and described her as "not of good moral
character." It also issued a probationary license allowing it to provide
staff leasing services, asking Ball and the firm to stay out of trouble
for seven years.
Social meetings also
Haslam denied he'd been lobbied by Ingram.
"Tom has never
talked to me about a piece of state business, period," he said. "If I'm
paying Tom for advice, then we're talking about what I want to talk
about in that time, not what his clients want to talk about."
emails do not show any direct interactions between Haslam and Ingram,
though they suggest Cate played a role in setting up meetings between
In one email, sent Sept. 28, 2012, Cate confirms plans
for a meeting to discuss tourism. The email lists the attendees as
Ingram, Cate, the "gov," and two other people, identified only as
"Colin" and "Lewis."
Ingram listed Gaylord Entertainment Co., led
by chief executive Colin Reed, as one of his clients last year. Reed and
Lewis Levine, a longtime political ally of Ingram, both sit on the
Tennessee Tourism Committee, though neither is clearly identified in the
Dave Smith, the governor's spokesman, responded to
questions about that meeting by saying that Haslam occasionally talked
business with Ingram, but not in his capacity as a lobbyist.
emails show Ingram forwarding a request from the bankrupt International
Storytelling Center for $500,000 to help hold onto its building in
Jonesborough, providing research on the Tennessee Education Lottery and
seeking aid on new regulations governing proprietary schools.
segues from the request for money for the storytelling center to
pointing out that Ingram and the governor will be having lunch in two
The emails also show that Durham sent Cate a message on
Easter Sunday and received a reply less than two hours later. The access
surprises even Ingram at one point.
"Wow, didn't mean to bother
you on a weekend," Ingram writes after receiving a reply minutes after
he sent a message on a Saturday morning. "Impressive response time."
of the correspondence was initiated by Haslam's aides. On Dec. 30,
2012, Cate wrote to ask Ingram to help his nephew make contacts in
Ingram replies, "We should get his resume to Todd Womack," a senior adviser to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.