Black Caucus under fire - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Black Caucus under fire

The chairman of Tennessee's legislative black caucus is under fire, for not revealing where the thousands of dollars in contributions come from.

It spends that money on scholarships, on travel and on various member's needs.  Its leaders will tell you that.  But try to find out where the money comes from and you'll hit a dead end.

On one set of letterhead, you'll see the names of three lawmakers indicted this summer and one who has since admitted she took money from a lobbyist on her birthday.

The black caucus has had a lot of controversy this summer.

"And he said you can't be a member.  And I said why not.  And he said because you're white," said Knoxville Representative Stacey Campfield on Friday.  Campfield, a white republican, was told he couldn't join and that brought the group national media attention.

Now, Caucus Chairman Johnny Shaw is refusing to disclose the donors who put money in the group's accounts.

"This is no time to be evasive.  This is no time to be in denial.  It's a time for full disclosure," said Memphis Representative John Deberry.  He's a longtime caucus member.  "We as public servants have a responsibility to restore the public trust.  We have to do it.  Because there are a lot of negative perceptions about us as politicians and public servants and you might even argue that some of it is self-inflicted."

Shaw has disclosed that the caucus has two accounts, a scholarship fund and a fund for operations.  Between the two, the group has about $8200.  But he refuses to identify the donors.

Political analyst Larry Moore says he doesn't have to, that there is no oversight for caucuses in state law.  "The caucus then... It's one of those things where there's probably no laws for them because they don't exist under the law."

At least not yet.

Moore says situations like these often lead to changes in public policy. 

Kenneth Townsend, press secretary for the house democratic caucus says the group is an informal organization that does not - and is not required - to keep a record of contributions.  

Black caucus chair Johnny Shaw never returned any of our numerous messages. 

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