The leaders of the House and Senate collected substantial sums for their political action committees — much of money coming from special interest PACs — in the weeks preceding the opening of the 2013 legislative session, according to disclosure reports filed last week.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey collected $108,600 from October through Jan. 7, the day before the legislative session began, triggering a blackout on legislator fundraising until the session ends. He had a $178,703 cash-on-hand balance in the RAAMPAC account at that point, plus about $85,000 in his regular campaign account.
House Speaker Beth Harwell put just $23,000 into her PAC during the period, but has a bigger cash-on-hand balance, $444,257. She also has $307,475 in her own campaign account. The speakers traditionally use their money in both accounts to help fellow Republican candidates.
Harwell, then, has more than $750,000 in her two accounts as the year begins; Ramsey about $264,000.
For comparison, the full House Republican Caucus shows a cash-on-hand balance of $46,515 while the Senate Republican Caucus balance was $89,881. The House Democratic Caucus had $41,631 and the Senate Democratic Caucus had $30,959.
Thus the four caucuses combined begin the year holding less money than Ramsey.
The Tennessee Republican Caucus, which is set up for joint House-Senate fundraising events, had a balance of $123,720, which at some point will be distributed to the separate House and Senate GOP caucuses. The House-Senate Democratic Caucus, the counterpart PAC for Democrats, had just $7,041 cash on hand.
On the donor end, StudentsFirst continues to build its reputation as one of the leading new contributors to legislator causes. The group gave $58,500 to legislators and their PACs during the last reporting period after giving more than $470,000 during the 2012 campaign cycle.
StudentsFirst, founded by education reform activist Michelle Rhee, backs some controversial proposals before the General Assembly this year — including a voucher system, legislation that would allow state officials to overrule local school boards in approving charter schools and a “parent trigger” that would ease the path for converting public schools into charter schools.
StudentsFirst gave $5,000 each to the Ramsey and Harwell PACs in the most recent reporting period. The Tennessee Education Association’s PAC topped that by giving each of the speaker PACs $10,000, though donating considerably less to individual lawmakers. TEA opposes vouchers, a “statewide authorizer” and the “parent trigger.”
TEA’s overall expenditures during the period totaled abut $46,000. It gave $2,500 each to the House Democratic and Republican Caucuses, plus $2,500 to the Senate Republican Caucus and $1,500 to the Senate Democratic Caucus; and relatively little to individual legislators.
StudentsFirst gave $2,000 to Senate Education Committee Chairman Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, in the latest report and $1,000 to House Education Committee Chairman Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville. Several members of their committees, which will decide the fate of education reform legislation, also got donations.