A nationwide analysis of contributions to political causes indicates that the Haslams are the leading family of “elite donors” in Tennessee.
The Sunlight Foundation last week released a list of the “1 percent of 1 percent” — 31,385 people nationwide who represent just .01 percent of the nation’s population but who made 28 percent of all political contributions involving campaigns for president and congressional offices in 2012. (Link HERE)
In Tennessee, 430 individuals made the list, contributing almost $17.3 million as a group.
Eight of the “elite political donors” in Tennessee are members of the Haslam family, including patriarch James “Jim” Haslam II, who founded Pilot Corp. as a young man. He and his son James III, or “Jimmy,” made the top 10 for Tennessee.
Jimmy Haslam was No. 5 with $176,550, his father seventh with $159,450.
Collectively, eight Haslam family members donated $743,150 during the year. Natalie Haslam, Jim Haslam’s wife, donated $96,250, and his younger son, Gov. Bill Haslam, $96,200, according to the Sunlight figures. Susan “Dee” Haslam, Jimmy’s wife, donated $82,500.
The top Tennessee donor in federal campaigns was Andrew Miller Jr. of Nashville, who runs HealthMark Ventures, donating $272,000 as an individual.
His father, Andrew Miller Sr., gave $148,479, and his wife, Tami Jo, gave $35,800, so they collectively had about $450,000 total — considerably short of the Haslam family.
“I’ve always said that you do not give money to political candidates. You invest in the best people possible,” said Jim Haslam in a telephone interview. “My very first investment was in Howard Baker (elected to the U.S. Senate in 1966), and I thought that came out pretty good. That’s been the philosophy ever since.”
The philosophy carried over in 2012 to the new “super PAC” phenomenon. Jim, Jimmy and Bill Haslam gave $37,500 each to American Crossroads, a super PAC founded by political operative Karl Rove that spent $105 million during 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, in helping Mitt Romney and multiple Republican congressional candidates, often through TV ads attacking their opponents.
“We obviously thought they were helping the best people possible,” said Jim Haslam.
“Somebody called us about some of the efforts they were making in campaigns and I thought it would be helpful,” said Bill Haslam, when asked about his American Crossroads donation.
The philosophy also carried down to a third generation of Haslams. Elizabeth Leigh Haslam and Anne Haslam Colquitt, Bill Haslam’s daughters, and Whitney Haslam Johnson, Jimmy’s daughter, also made the Sunlight list. Leigh Haslam was listed as giving $55,000; Johnson, $52,500; and Colquitt, $25,000.
The Haslams are also active in donating to state-level campaigns, though at much lower levels than in federal campaigns, according to the state Registry of Election Finance website.
In fact, Bill Haslam is not listed as making any contributions as an individual to candidates for the state Legislature in 2012 on the website. A PAC he established, JOBS4TN, distributed $23,500 — $10,500 to the state Republican Party’s main legislative campaign fund and the rest to four legislative candidates. But the governor gave no money to his PAC himself last year, instead raising it from others — including Jim, Jimmy, Natalie and Dee Haslam.
Also, the biggest recipient of Haslam family contributions was Bill Haslam’s 2014 re-election campaign fund. Seven family members collectively gave $54,400 to that cause. The state GOP legislative fund received $25,000 each from Jim and Jimmy Haslam.
Gov. Haslam, working with House Speaker Beth Harwell, did raise money for a special fund in the GOP legislative campaign account to finance state House candidates. And in an interview, the governor noted that he attended several Republican candidate events, made speeches endorsing them and otherwise engaged in campaigning.
Thus, he said that in terms of overall time and energy spent on behalf of state-level candidates, his efforts were “lopsided” in focusing on the state level.
The Sunlight Foundation said “elite political donors” dominated campaign giving nationwide even in a year when President Obama gathered huge amounts of money in small donations.
“In 2014, without a presidential race to attract small donors, all indicators are that the 1 percent of the 1 percent will occupy an even more central role in the money chase,” according to a commentary on the organization’s blog.
The median contribution from the elite donors was $26,584, a little more than half the median family income in the United States, it said.
The News Sentinel used the Sunlight data to organize the list of Tennessee donors in order of the amount of money given during 2012.
The top 10, after Andrew Miller Jr., are:
n Willis Johnson of Franklin, an executive of Copart Inc., an automobile salvage company, $266,000
n Sarah Faulkner of Lookout Mountain, $222,189
n William Freeman, who operates a real estate and property management firm in Nashville, $211,365
n Jimmy Haslam, $176,550
n Allan Jones of Cleveland, founder of a payday loan company, $173,710
n Jim Haslam, $159,450
n Joey A. Jacobs of Brentwood, an Acadia Healthcare executive, $153,616
n Olan Mills II of Chattanooga, who founded a chain of photography studios, $150,600
n J. Blair Wilson of Nashville, employed by Dapco Investments, $149,498.
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen made the list, but did not rank high with $30,396 in contributions.