Newly filed campaign finance disclosures show political action committees with an agenda in the 2015 legislative session spent thousands of dollars in last-minute efforts to influence elections, then joined other interests in giving thousands more to elected lawmakers.
A review of disclosures filed with the Registry of Election Finance last week also shows there was more than $1 million in late spending on both sides of the campaign over passage of an abortion amendment to the Tennessee Constitution. The leading group supporting passage borrowed $100,000 for the last days.
Under state law, the last pre-election financial disclosure is dated 10 days prior to an election — falling on Oct. 25 in 2014 with Election Day on Nov. 4. Disclosures filed last week cover the period starting then and continuing through Jan. 15, two days after the 109th General Assembly convened. Sitting legislators are prohibited from taking political contributions during session.
A review of the new filings indicates two nationally based organizations pushing school vouchers and other “education choice” legislation continued to lead in late campaign spending on legislative races among groups not affiliated with political parties — as they had earlier in the year. All the late campaign spending by the Tennessee PACs of American Federation for Children and StudentsFirst went to attack Democrats or support Republicans.
The StudentsFirst Tennessee PAC reported $65,712 in expenditures during the final 10 days with almost half — about $30,000 going in independent expenditures to either support Republican Eddie Smith in his successful campaign or attack Democratic incumbent Gloria Johnson in Knoxville’s 13th House District. The rest went for independent expenditures in efforts to help the Republicans who lost to Democratic Reps. Kevin Dunlap of Sparta and David Shepard of Dickson.
For the two-year election cycle, including 2013 and 2014, the state StudentsFirst PAC reported campaign spending of $573,917.
American Federation for Children’s Tennessee PAC wound up its legislative efforts with $35,000 spent either attacking Shepard or supporting his Republican opponent, Michael Curcio. Shepard won by 15 votes. For the election cycle, the Federation PAC spent a total of $606,345 seeking to influence help favored Tennessee candidates – or hurt those disfavored.
The Tennessee Education Association, which opposes school vouchers and other proposals pushed by the “education choice” PACs, does not engage in independent expenditures through its PAC, only making donations to candidates directly.
The TEA PAC’s fourth-quarter report lists just $14,500 in donations to legislators — all after the election. For the two-year period, the teachers union PAC has reported expenditures totaling $350,130.
A sample of some other campaign finance reports:
The Tennessee Hospital Association, which is leading a push for approval of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal that will be debated in a special legislative session beginning today, reported $43,529 in donations by its PAC to sitting legislators — all made after the election. The PAC has reported expenditures of $193,915 for the two-year election cycle.
The Tennessee Medical Association, which also supports Haslam’s modified Medicaid expansion plan, reported PAC spending $59,204 in the fourth quarter, mostly in post-election donations to legislators — though it did spend $4,290 on a direct mail piece supporting Shepard just before the election. The PAC’s two-year total: $392,735.
Advance Tennessee PAC, which stirred controversy in Republican circles this summer after spending about $140,000 attacking conservative incumbent GOP legislators and supporting their primary opponents, spent $41,906 in the last days before the general election attacking two Democrats — about $30,000 against Rep. Bo Mitchell of Nashville, who won, and most of the rest against Johnson.
RAAMPAC, operated by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, is in an apparent rebuilding mode after spending $605,000 in an unsuccessful effort to defeat three state Supreme Court justices last summer. The PAC collected $143,600 in the fourth quarter — including $50,000 from National Heritage Academies, a Michigan-based company that manages charter schools for profit. The company also retains lobbyists to push legislation authorizing for-profit charter school management in Tennessee — a bill that failed last year, but is expected to be debated again this year.
RAAMPAC reported a cash-on-hand balance of $210,486 as of Jan. 15. House Speaker Beth Harwell’s PAC, meanwhile, reported a new record balance of $678,542, keeping her far ahead of any other legislator operating a PAC. Following Ramsey as apparent runnerup in that department is Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who reported a balance of $169,449 in MPAC.
Harwell also reported $683,616 in her separate legislative campaign account compared to $157,013 in Ramsey’s campaign account, at last report in July of 2014. Ramsey, who was not up for re-election this year, did not have to file a report on his campaign account at the end of the year.
In the campaign over Amendment 1, which was approved by voters to clear the way for new restrictions on abortion in the coming legislative session, new disclosures show the Yes on 1 committee spent $470,682 in the final 10 days, including $100,000 loaned the group by Karen Brukardt, a lobbyist for Tennessee Right to Life, on Oct. 31.
Tennesseans for Yes on 1, a separate committee that had received $500,000 from U.S. Rep. Diane Black and her husband in October, spent another $91,124 after a late infusion of new funds — including $10,000 each from Haslam and his wife, Chrissy.
For the entire campaign, the two pro-Amendment 1 groups combined spent just under $2 million.
No on 1, the lead group opposing the amendment, reported $608,604 in spending over the final days with most of the money coming from Planned Parenthood and ACLU affiliates, as in previously reported giving. Total No on 1 spending for the campaign reached almost $4.4 million.
Haslam reported spending $506,288 in wrapping up his landslide victory over Democratic nominee Charlie Brown of Oakdale. Since the governor’s reelection campaign was launched two years ago, it has spent about $5 million. Brown’s reports indicate he spent a total of $103.