The governor and the speaker have been funneling funds to Republican hopefuls via a legal secret fund:

According to those involved, the governor and House speaker solicited donations to the Governor's Leadership Fund and, when they were received, the money was placed in a separate bank account overseen by the state Republican Party. Contributions from the fund were then sent to the candidates through the state GOP's main political action committee, the Tennessee Legislative Campaign Committee, or TLCC.

"It's acting under the umbrella of the Tennessee Legislative Campaign Committee," said Nickas. "We (state party officials) at the end of the day are custodians of the money and decide how it is spent."

The Governor's Leadership Fund may be likened to a PAC within a PAC. But, legally speaking, so long as Harwell and Haslam do not direct where the money goes, after they collected as fundraisers for the party, they do not need to register as a PAC.

Asked if party officials would ever reject the governor and House speaker's joint recommendations on which candidates should get money from the fund, Nickas replied, "They may offer advice, but we make the decisions."