3/9/2007Tennessee: Toll Lobbyist Has Close Ties to Decisonmakers
A Tennessee toll road lobbyist uses personal relationships and political donations to earn $4.1 million in new contracts for an engineering firm.
A Tennessee toll road lobbyist has very close ties to key decision makers on transportation issues. For the past year, Velma Jones has lobbied for Consoer Townsend Envirodyne, a division of AECOM, a transportation engineering design firm with several prominent toll road contracts and $2.4 billion in annual revenue. Jones also happens to be the girlfriend of state House Transportation Committee Chairman Phillip Pinion (D), according to an investigative report by WTVF-TV.
Until March 31, 2006, Jones was the chief of staff for the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT). Three weeks after leaving the job she registered to lobby TDOT. On May 15, 2006, records show she met with her former boss, TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely, to promote toll roads on behalf of CTE-AECOM. AECOM clients provided a series of political contributions worth $8200 to Nicely's boss, Governor Phil Bredesen (D). Nicely then approved a series of consulting contracts with AECOM worth $4,139,210 -- a four-fold increase from the prior level of contracting with the firm.
By November, Chairman Pinion announced his interest in creating toll road legislation. By February he had introduced HB1204 and HB1205, the "Tennessee Tollway Act" and the "Public-Private Transportation Act of 2007." Pinion denies any conflict of interest or influence from Jones.