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Cobb loses out on campaign "buckets of cash"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

(Photo)
Ty Cobb II
(Submitted photo)
NASHVILLE -- Buckets of cash collected for Ty Cobb's campaign for vacated House District 62 during a major fundraising dinner put the Tennessee Democratic Party on the wrong side of state campaign finance regulations.

Party officials decided to donate all the cash to charity after The Associated Press raised questions about their failure to gather the names of the people who put the money in the buckets.

Cobb told the Times-Gazette this morning he hadn't been told yet about what was happening with the money.

"I'm just waiting on someone to let me know," said Cobb. "Somebody else is handling all that."

Saturday's Jackson Day event was headlined by former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore and attended by more than 3,000 people, including elected officials, political operatives and other partisans.

State Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester in his speech urged attendees to throw money into the buckets placed on every table to support Shelbyville Democrat Cobb's efforts to be elected to the seat vacated by Cobb's brother, Curt Cobb, who resigned to become clerk of the Bedford County chancery court.

But Forrester forgot to remind people to fill out forms left next to the buckets asking for their names to go along with their contributions, said spokesman Keith Talley.

"We had the paperwork on the tables, it's just one of those mistakes," Talley said. "We're just going to donate it to a local charity."

About $5,200 was collected in the buckets, though that figure includes checks that the party won't have to return since they include donors' names. Talley said he didn't know the exact amount of cash collected.

Cobb said he was not concerned about the potential loss of campaign contributions.

"I'm just getting out and campaigning," he said. "That's not something I'm really worried about."

State law allows cash contributions of up to $50, but requires recipients to document the names and amounts of each donation, said Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance head Drew Rawlins.

"They're supposed to keep track of who gave what," Rawlins said. "By law they need to know who gave the money, and how much they gave."

Campaigns don't have to itemize contributions of less than $100 on their reports, but Rawlins said officials wouldn't be able to tell if they reach that threshold if they don't keep track of each donation.

"What if someone put $50 in the pot, and then wrote a check for $100 the next day? You have to itemize that," he said. "You're supposed to know where all your money came from."

Lawmakers in 2006 reduced the maximum amount of cash contributions from $1,000 to $50 as part of an overhaul of the state's ethics laws in the aftermath of the FBI's Tennessee Waltz bribery sting that led to the convictions of five former lawmakers.

Cobb said he was delighted to attend the fundraiser.

"It was great," he said. "The turnout was spectacular."

The Republican nominee is Pat Marsh, a co-founder of Shelbyville-based trucking company Big G Express Inc. Also seeking the state house seat is Constitution Party candidate Chris Brown, who is listed as an independent on the ballot under state law.

The Oct. 13 election is drawing heightened attention because of the Republicans one-seat advantage in the 99-seat chamber.

--City Editor John I. Carney contributed to this story.