Spending in politics equates to power in politics. Politicians rely on financial donations and independent spending to help get elected and stay in office, while special interest groups and lobbyists use those dollars to sway legislation. By pulling together millions of rows of lobbying and campaign finance data, the Tennessee Lookout has published a first-of-its-kind publicly available database tracking political spending in Tennessee since 2009. This series will use that database to investigate the impact of private money on public regulations and spending affecting Tennesseans.

The $27.1 million clash between education reform and public school advocates

BY: - November 30, 2023

Before state Rep. Bob Ramsey could react, outside money poured into his Republican primary, and mailboxes throughout his district were full of attack advertisements. Ramsey, whose state House seat is in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Maryville, Tenn., considered himself a moderate member of the state’s GOP caucus.  But, most consequential to his […]

Timely donations to Gov. Lee spark rise of Tennessee charter operator with dubious ties

BY: - November 28, 2023

During the winter of 2021, Noble Education Initiative’s chances of opening a third charter school — this time, in Rutherford County — looked bleak. But in the weeks leading up to a crucial vote that would effectively decide the project’s fate, Gov. Bill Lee’s reelection campaign received $43,000 in donations from executives affiliated with Noble […]

Tennessee State Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)

List of groups spending $1 million or more in Tennessee politics grows to 193

BY: - September 28, 2023

This story was last updated on Oct. 26, 2023 Over the past 15 years, 193 companies, associations and other groups have spent at least $1 million trying to influence Tennessee’s politics.  Earlier this year, the Lookout published the initial parts Cash for Clout series examining money’s influence in Tennessee politics, including a donations database and list of […]

(Photo: Getty Images)

Lobbying groups spent around $35 million to influence Tennessee lawmakers during the first half of 2023

BY: - September 21, 2023

Tennessee’s lobbying sector is doing just fine. From Jan. 1, 2023 to June 30, 2023, groups spent a combined $35 million on lobbying activity, according to filings released by Tennessee Registry of Election Finance earlier this week. It’s nearly $4 million more than groups spent during the same period in 2022, and a 66% rise […]

AT&T, the broadband conundrum and a $204 million tax exemption

BY: and - August 17, 2023

As Tennessee lawmakers rushed toward the end of the 2022 legislative session, debates over a new school funding formula, the budget, and critical race theory took center stage. Amid the chaos comparable to the final days of a school year, lawmakers unanimously passed the Tennessee Broadband Investment Maximization Act, containing only one item: a nine-figure […]

What happens when a cash-poor billionaire wants a new sports stadium? Lobbying.

BY: - July 26, 2023

Tennessee Titans CEO Burke Nihill stepped up to the podium on an early May 2022 morning to justify why his team needed, or more likely wanted, a new NFL stadium in downtown Nashville. For months, Nihill had made the rounds advocating the wonders of a new stadium, claiming it would benefit the taxpayers and community. […]

(Photo and graphic by John Partipilo)

Cash for Clout: Who’s funding Tennessee’s politics?

BY: - July 24, 2023

This story was last updated on Oct. 26, 2023. Every year millions of dollars flow to Nashville, flooding the halls of Tennessee’s state capitol as a small number of deep-pocketed groups attempt to influence lawmakers. The money comes in many streams through different legal channels, all aiming to influence regulations, push for tax breaks and […]

Tennessee Capitol (Photo: John Partipilo)

Cash for Clout: Tennessee’s million-dollar club

BY: - July 24, 2023

Since 2009, 193 groups have spent more than $1 million in Tennessee politics. An analysis of the spending of Tennessee’s exclusive seven-figure club shows the money serves as a benchmark of the power of private groups to influence public policy. The expenditures are legally allowed under the state’s campaign laws. While no set amount of […]