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Original Author: Hemsley, Sid
Date of Material: 06/26/2001


McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act

Reviewed Date: 06/10/2021
A city cannot pass a model of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act for local application.

Question: Can a city enact a model of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act for local application? 

In my opinion, the answer is clearly no.

Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 2-1-103 says that, " All elections for public office, for candidacy for public office, and on questions submitted to the people shall be conducted under this title." This title is Title 2 of Tennessee Code Annotated, of which the statutes considered below are a part, and which pertain to " all"elections. 

Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 2-10-101 et seq. is the Campaign Financial Disclosure Act of 1980. Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 2-10-201 et seq. is the Registry of Election Finance Act of 1989. Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 2-10-301 is the Campaign Contribution Limits Act of 1995. Together, they appear to provide a comprehensive state scheme to regulate campaign disclosure, the amounts of money political candidates can receive and spend, and the disposal of any money that exceeds those amounts. 

Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 2-10-101, provides that:

(b) The provisions of this part do not apply to any candidate for public office for which the service is part time and for which the compensation is less than five hundred dollars ($500) per month; provided that this exemption shall not be applicable to any such candidate for a public office as a chief administrative officer or to any such candidate whose expenditures exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000). 

(c) Any charter provisions of municipalities regarding campaign finance disclosures of candidates for public office apply to candidates for public office except to the extent that such provisions are in conflict with the provisions of this part. [Emphasis is mine.]

That law exempts candidates whose service is part time and whose compensation is less than $500 per month (which exemption applies to most candidates for municipal office), unless the candidate's expenditure exceeds $1,000. Charter provisions in that area are effective only to the extent they do not conflict with this law. Civil penalties are provided for the violations of this statute. 

Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 2-10-201 et seq. established the Registry of Election Finance, and places control over the enforcement of the Campaign Disclosure and the Campaign Contribution Limits Act in that Registry. 

Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 2-10-301 limits contributions to campaigns for all offices in the state. With respect to municipal office it contains the following limits: $1,000 from any person, including corporations and other organizations; $5,000 from a multi-candidate political campaign committee; $20,000 from the candidate himself or herself; $20,000 from a political party; and $75,000 from multi-candidate political campaign committees. The Registry of Election Finance may impose a penalty up to $10,000 or 115% of the amount of all contributions made or accepted in excess of these limits, whichever is greater. [Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 2-10-301B310.] Candidates are also prohibited from converting leftover campaign funds to personal use. [Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 2-10-115]

It seems clear that it was the intent of the General Assembly in adopting Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 2 in general, and Tennessee Code Annotated, '' 2-10-101 et seq., 2-10-201 et seq., and 2-10-301 et seq., in particular, to impose a comprehensive, state-wide, and uniform scheme of legislation and enforcement in the area of campaign finance disclosure and campaign contributions. Both the Campaign Disclosure Law and the Campaign Limits Act apply to all candidates for public office, including candidates for local offices [Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 2-10-102(2) and 11(A); Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 2-10-302]. Generally, where a legislative policy is expressed in state law, municipal ordinances cannot conflict with that policy. [Memphis v. Southern Railway, 67 S.W.2d 552 (1934); Southern Railway v. City of Knoxville, 442 S.W.2d 619 (1968); Capitol News Co. v. Metropolitan Government, 562 S.W.2d 430 (Tenn. 1978)].In addressing the question of whether a city could by ordinance prohibit the sale of liquor within its boundaries, City of Lakewood v. Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, 410 S.W.2d 897 (1967), said:

T.C.A. 57-101 presents a comprehensive scheme of legislation regulating the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the State of Tennessee. T.C.A. ' 57-111 provides for a countywide local option election to determine whether or not alcoholic beverages may be sold within the territorial limits of the county. Beyond the subject of certificates of good moral character and a degree of reasonable regulation, municipalities are not vested with any administrative or other function so far as licensing of retail liquor outlets is concerned....It is our view that T.C.A. ' 57-111, read together with the rest of Title 57 of Tennessee Code Annotated, evidences a clear legislative purpose that the sale of alcoholic beverages be permitted or prohibited on a countywide basis. Beyond any peradventure of doubt, any municipal ordinance in conflict with these statutes is ineffective. [At 903] [Citations omitted.]. 

The above comprehensive legislative scheme dealing with elections generally, and campaign finance disclosure and campaign contribution limitations in particular, fits into the same category.