Ethics bill would ban ‘pay-to-play’ political donations from companies with government contracts

Rep. Justin Jones, Sen. London Lamar lead the charge for ‘anti-corruption legislation’

Tennessee Senate Democrats
3 min readFeb 28, 2024


NASHVILLE — The state of Tennessee every year pays billions to private companies that have contracts to perform government work. And, in some cases, those companies then make sizable campaign contributions directly to the politicians who influence whether those agreements are approved.

To the public, this looks like “pay-to-play” politics, according to Sen. London Lamar, D-Memphis, and Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, who are introducing groundbreaking anti-corruption legislation to put an end to this practice.

In an era where ethical governance is paramount, these lawmakers say banning political donations from entities being paid with tax dollars would strengthen the public’s trust in government by rooting out corruption as well as the appearance of corruption.

Their legislation, Senate Bill 2489 and House Bill 2499, would prohibit any entity with an active state contract or grant award from making campaign donations to PACs and candidates in state elections. The prohibition would only be effective for the duration of the contractual obligation to taxpayers.

“This anti-corruption legislation is a bold step towards ensuring that our government decisions are not swayed by financial contributions, but rather guided by the needs and concerns of the people we serve,” Rep. Jones said. “It is about avoiding even the appearance of impropriety in awarding state contracts. This bill is a critical step towards ensuring that our democracy is not sold off to the highest bidder.”

Sen. Lamar says the legislation is needed to ensure the democratic process for awarding government contracts remains untainted by the undue influence of money in politics and companies looking to curry favor with powerful politicians.

“Democracy thrives when citizens believe their voices are heard and their interests are represented without bias. By prohibiting ‘pay-to-play’ campaign donations, we are taking a proactive stance against corruption and any perception of favoritism,” Sen. Lamar said. “This legislation underscores our commitment to ethical governance and the financial well-being of the people of Tennessee.”

Government contracts, grants

The practice of political giving by government contractors and grant winners is widespread across industries.

Companies and their business-driven PACs — spanning private prisons, tele-communications, healthcare, prison healthcare, road and building construction, insurance, K-12 education services, information technology, delivery services, water infrastructure, banking, and more — have donated tens of millions of dollars to candidate campaigns and PACs after taking billions of public tax dollars through government contracts and grants.

A review of the Tennessee Lookout’s Cash for Clout database provides an accounting of political donations that can be cross referenced with’s “All Contracts Dashboard.”

If enacted the bill would prohibit a state or local contractor or grant award winner from directly or indirectly promising or making a contribution to a political campaign committee, candidate, or person for political purpose during the period between contract execution or award of a grant through the completion of the contract or grant period.

The legislation is based on a state law in Hawaii that survived a legal challenge in federal court in 2015.