GOP Legislative Candidates Build Huge Money Lead Over Democrats

Republicans continue to build a huge money advantage statewide over Democrats as they push to gain a supermajority over the minority party in the Nov. 6 elections, according to new campaign finance disclosures filed this week.
Major Republican-operated political action committees that are involved in legislative races have significantly more than a $1 million lead over Democratic-operated PACs in cash on hand for the remainder of the campaign, the reports show.
Nine individual state Senate candidates, in turn, collectively have more than a $1 million lead in cash on hand over their Democratic opponents, according to a GOP tally.
While a compilation of House candidate totals was not available, a sampling of individual candidate reports indicates that Republican House candidates also likely enjoy a $1 million advantage, though Democrats actually have a money lead in a few races.
Republicans now hold a 64-34 majority in the state House, with one Independent, and a 20-13 majority in the Senate. With a gain of two seats in each chamber, the GOP will have a two-thirds majority in both. That means all Democrats could walk out and the House and Senate could continue to meet with a quorum and that Republicans, if united, can suspend normal rules to almost instantly approve legislation.
The new disclosures show that Republicans are financially positioned to meet or exceed their supermajority goals. Republicans credit the outpouring of money into their campaigns to Tennesseans’ collective satisfaction with the new political status quo in the state.

“People like the direction we’re headed in Tennessee, and they are willing to invest in continuing that direction — particularly when compared to what they see in Washington under (President) Barack Obama,” said Adam Nickas, executive director of the state Republican Party.
Democrats say the GOP advantage is a reflection of wealthy groups and individuals favoring those who favor them.
“These numbers are a reflection of the unbalanced approach we’ve seen in the Tennessee Legislature that has rewarded the wealthy and well-connected and punished our working and middle class families. Wealth is increasing for the rich and unemployment is increasing for the rest of us,” said Brandon Puttbrese, communications director of the Tennessee Democratic Party, in an email.
“Families are frustrated because big special interests are making an investment, not in our state, but in top-down, Republican politicians who’ll rewrite the rules to benefit their bottom line. When our elected officials are voting for or against a bill, they should be consulting their conscience and our families, not their campaign contributors.”
Some of the numbers from reports covering the period of July 1-Oct. 1 as filed with the state Registry of Campaign Finance:
n The Tennessee Republican Party’s primary PAC for funding legislative campaigns collected $284,914 during the quarter and had expenditures totaling $653,909 with a remaining cash-on-hand balance of $505,496. The state Democratic Party’s counterpart PAC collected $214,497, spent $172,463 and had a balance of $335,507.
n The House Republican Caucus, which mostly funds campaigns of incumbent Republican representatives, collected $114,645, spent $199,418 and had a balance of $259,822. The House Democratic Caucus gathered $62,551, spent $93,467 and had a balance of $48,261.
Money from the caucus accounts goes either directly to party candidates or is used to pay for advertising, polling, phone banks and the like to help those candidates. The House Republican Caucus spent about $80,000, for example, on direct mail pieces in September that attacked Democrats or praised Republicans, records show. The state GOP did the actual mailing and was then reimbursed by the House Republican Caucus.
n The Senate Republican Caucus, which benefits GOP Senate candidates, brought in $477,750, spent $308,318 and had a balance of $233,593. The Senate Democratic Caucus, its counterpart, collected $4,675, spent just $736 and had a balance of $79,627 cash on hand.
n Republican state Senate candidates enjoy more than a 2-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over their Democratic opponents in individual campaign accounts, according to a tally put together by the Senate Republican Caucus and distributed to media. The nine Republican candidates collectively had $1,261,981 cash on hand compared with the Democratic candidates’ collective $579,765, according to the GOP figures.
n So-called “leadership PACs” set up by Republican and Democratic legislative leaders to aid their respective party’s candidates show an even greater partisan disparity.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s PAC, for example, spent $152,677 during the quarter and had a cash balance of $363,374 on Oct. 1. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris’ PAC distributed $55,687 during the period and had $105,771 remaining. In comparison, the PAC operated by Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, spent $16,500 and had a cash balance of $14,468. That was the highest total of any Democrat-led leadership PAC.
House Speaker Beth Harwell’s PAC handed out just $11,390 to help Republican causes during the quarter but has amassed a cash balance of $349,832 for spending in the last weeks. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, who operates the richest Democratic leadership PAC among members of the House, spent $7,200 during the quarter and had a cash balance of $13,835 for the rest of the campaign season. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s PAC spent $7,500 but had a balance of just $2,100.
Other Republican leadership PACs, including those operated by House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny and Rep. Glen Casada, who is running for House Republican Caucus chairman, spent more in the quarter than the Turner and Fitzhugh PACs combined. Casada distributed $19,220; Matheny $29,175.
n The Tennessee Republican Caucus, a joint House-Senate effort that collects money and disburses it back to the House and Senate GOP caucuses, had a balance of $227,472 on Oct. 1. The Democratic counterpart, the House-Senate Democratic Caucus, had a balance of $3,041.

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