Harwell Tops 24 Legislator-operated PACs in Cash on hand

House Speaker Beth Harwell has the highest cash-on-hand balance of the 24 political action committees operated by state legislators, according to reports filed this month with the Registry of Election Finance.

Harwell PAC had a balance $447,857. Her own personal campaign account, meanwhile, had a balance of $302,857.

The second highest total for a PAC operated by a legislator was Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s RAAMPAC, which had $196,399. Ramsey’s personal campaign account, meanwhile, held $67,505.

Both speakers use their PACs to help various Republican causes — Ramsey focusing on Senate candidates, Harwell on House candidates. Both also frequently contribute to other candidates — neither having faced a serious challenge to re-election to the Legislature in many years — from their personal campaign accounts.

Setting up a PAC has become increasingly popular among state legislators since it allows contributors, often other PACs, to write two checks — one to the legislator’s PAC and one to the legislator’s own campaign — and thus give considerably larger amounts than otherwise possible under campaign contribution limits. Also, PACs can hand out more money to others than a legislator can through his or her own account or as an individual — $11,200 per election in a Senate contest, for example, versus $3,800.

The Tennessee Journal has compiled a list of all 24 legislator-operated PACs and their current balance. At the bottom end is JT Leadership PAC, set up last year by Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, with a zero balance. Filings indicate it was set up last year but never activated with an infusion of funding. Next lowest is Red State PAC, operated by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, with a balance of $40.42.

Only two Knoxville-area legislators have PACs — Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville.

Brooks’ East Tennessee GOP PAC was active back in the 2010 elections, raising and distributing several thousand dollars, but has had little activity since. Its current balance is $980.54. The Overbey PAC, set up last year, had $14,385 cash on hand