The traveling exhibit, which had been planned and overseen by the Tennessee State Museum, is now on hold. Ben Hall, the reporter at Nashville’s News Channel 5 who broke the story, said the Museum had decided the timing was not right for such an exhibit.
The “red flags” raised by the story may be summarized by the question, “What business does a political campaign have in coordinating with the the State of Tennessee to produce and sponsor an exhibit which positively portrays their candidate during an election year?”
The Tennessee State Museum is a phenomenal resource for the people of Tennessee and visitors to the Volunteer state. They recently worked on a traveling exhibit honoring Lamar Alexander. Such an exhibit is well within the museum’s Mission Statement. At any given time, they have a variety of traveling exhibits touring the state.
However, such an exhibit raises questions of tax dollars being spent to promote a candidate during an election year. The Alexander campaign and the museum maintain funds for the exhibit were to come from private sources. Given the museum’s involvement, however, it is difficult to see how some state funds were not involved. They may not have been expected to fully fund it but any museum resources would arguably come from tax dollars.
Regardless of the amount, such involvement is problematic. The citizens of Tennessee have varied political views. That a single tax dollar would be spent on a project easily seen as violating the views of some while promoting those of others is unconscionable.
Lamar Alexander has been an influential and newsworthy Tennessean for decades. His contributions to Tennessee and our nation are well known. I think such an exhibit both proper and valuable … after the Senator leaves office. While he is serving, and certainly during an election year, its impropriety would be difficult to overstate.
Does no one think the Democrats will object to this? What about the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party or any other party with interests in the state; to say nothing of Republicans who support a GOP candidate “OTL,” “other than Lamar!” When will tax dollars and state agencies be producing material for their candidates?
This is exactly how political opponents will perceive this exhibit. The GOP itself is doing the same thing right now. RNC Chair Rience Priebus is threatening to exclude CNN and NBC from GOP Presidential primary debates in 2016 if the networks continue plans to produce a mini-series about Hillary Clinton.
Reporting the story, The Blaze notes Priebus considers such a production to be “an extended commercial for Secretary Clinton’s nascent campaign” and continues:
Priebus said that the miniseries could give Clinton an advantage over other potential Democratic opponents such Vice President Joe Biden, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
“As American citizens, certainly you recognize why many are astounded at your actions, which appear to be a major network’s thinly-veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election”
Still, how can a campaign be blamed for the actions of others? Because the campaign was not merely a bystander, but an active participant and partner in the process.
The Alexander campaign suggested that their involvement was limited to merely questions of scheduling. They were only coordinating appearances by the Senator at different locations at which the exhibit was to be displayed.
News Channel 5’s emails, however, document a months long process and involvement by staffers and supporters going far beyond simple scheduling. Alice Rolli, Alexander’s campaign manager and Tom Ingram, longtime supporter and on the campaign’s payroll, discuss funding for the exhibit, possible locations and other details with Lois Riggins-Ezzell, Executive Director of The Tennessee State Museum and Ex-Officio member of the Museum’s governing authority, the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission. Try calling the Senator’s office with a scheduling question and see if that’s who answers the phone.
Following questions from Ben Hall at News Channel 5, the project is on hold. I have to wonder how it ever saw the light of day.
That the Senator’s highest ranking and closest advisors were involved, over months, in planning a promotional event with their principal running for office and in an election year with state funding involved ought to have given someone pause.
It did not. But a reporter thought differently. So do I.
Comments are open. What say you?
You may contact Channel 5’s Ben Hall here.
Cross posted from Blue Collar Muse.