Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) has a piece of legislation that was officially placed on the House Committee calendar yesterday, and will be considered this coming Tuesday, February 26th. House Bill 884 would exempt people who are running for the State Executive Committee of either the Republican or Democratic parties from having to file “conflict of interest” disclosures when they file to run for the party office. A candidate has to file these documents which disclose what they, their wife, and children do for a living and any relevant investments they might have, so that the public knows whether the laws or ordinances they pass or approve might benefit them directly. It makes sense to have public officials who are being compensated from the public purse have to disclose interests that might influence their votes on legislation.
As a former candidate for State Executive Committee, I never quite understood why I had to fill out one of these disclosure forms (though I dutifully did so), since State Executive Committee members are not paid, whether from State or party dollars, and they aren’t even reimbursed for their mileage. Candidates run for committee seats on their time and usually on their dime. The State Executive Committee doesn’t draft or enact legislation, though they may issue an endorsement of this bill or that resolution, just as any civic group might do. A party’s State Executive Committee drafts party policy and makes party rules, and at the county level, party executive committee members are chosen at a party’s biennial county convention. Unless a county committee member has an automatic seat as head of a party-affiliated organization, people do “run” for county executive committee seats, but the winners are chosen within the confines of a meeting of the party faithful, so no one has to file any paperwork to run, just be nominated from the floor.
State Executive Committee members are elected at party primaries, however, so they have to get signatures and get access to the ballot for their primary, and they have to show that they are a bona fide or active member of their party in accordance with the rules that each party enacts to decide what constitutes active and bona fide. While legislators and local officials can serve on the State Executive Committee of their party, if they do they’ve already filled out a disclosure form when they ran for the office they hold. Many State Executive Committee members do not hold other offices and will never have a legal conflict of interest, and if they have one where their political party might be concerned, their party rules likely already provide for it.
Executive Committee members generously volunteer their time and money for the State and community, as well as for their party of choice. They shouldn’t have to disclose things that don’t put them in conflict but do make their personal affairs public when the taxpayers do not pay for their work.