Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he will soon start paying adviser and lobbyist Tom Ingram out of his campaign account instead of from personal funds.
Ingram, a former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, ran Haslam's successful bid for governor in 2010. He has since advised the governor on a series of political and administrative issues, while at the same time lobbying on behalf of private clients.
"What I'm paying him for is what I think will help the state run better, and then going forward it will be for what makes the campaign better," he said.
Questions were raised about Ingram's role after revelations that he and his government relations firm represents a company that wants to mine coal on public land near Crossville, but that he had failed to register as a lobbyist.
Ingram said at the time that the failure to register was an "inadvertent oversight." He also has said he doesn't personally lobby the governor any issue.
Ingram also has been a chief architect of the public response by Pilot Flying J, the company owned by the governor's family, to an April 15 raid by federal agents who say the privately held company defrauded trucking customers. The company is run by the governor's brother, Jimmy Haslam, who also is the owner of the NFL's Cleveland Browns.
Ingram said he is paid for that role by the Nashville law firm of Neal and Harwell, which has been retained by Pilot Flying J to handle the legal response to the raid.
Haslam told reporters on Tuesday that he's not concerned about the multiple roles played by Ingram.
"There's lobbyists of all types who have all sorts of relationships, and to say that anybody who has a relationship can't or shouldn't lobby is kind of difficult," he said. "
The governor also said he did not consider it a conflict of interest to take advice from a lobbyist.
"Think about it this way," he said. "If I'm spending time with Tom Ingram and I'm paying him, are we going to be talking about what his client wants to talk or what I want to talk about?"
Haslam said he paid Ingram personally because he didn't believe it would be fair for the state or his original campaign to pick up the cost for Ingram's advice following the election.
"He was literally helping me as I thought through organizational issues in state government," Haslam said. "Now as we move into the campaign, the campaign will pay him."