Jim Haslam, honored at GOP dinner, makes national list of top donors

James A. “Jim” Haslam II, honored at Saturday’s Tennessee Republican Statesmen’s Dinner, ranked No. 284 nationwide in a recent report on the top donors to candidates seeking federal office in 2014 and chipped in generously to state-level candidates as well.

The Center for Responsive Politics review in March showed Haslam individually donating $174,900 in “hard money,” more than any other Tennessean. That included $73,000 to GOP committees for the election of U.S. Senate and U.S. House candidates; $20,000 to the Tennessee Republican Party’s federal election account; and the rest to various candidates around the nation for seats in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who presented the Howard H. Baker Award to Haslam on Saturday night in Nashville, was among them. The award is named after the late U.S. senator and Haslam helped him with fundraising when Baker first ran for office in 1964, unsuccessfully, and then in 1966 when Baker became the first state’s first Republican senator in decades. Haslam began helping Alexander with fundraising in 1974, when Alexander was trying to retire a debt from his unsuccessful run for governor in that year.

Alexander said Saturday that Haslam never had any reason for his own political donations, or in serving as a fundraiser asking others to donate, other than to see “good and honest government” as a result. That, he said, is why he appreciated Haslam’s efforts then and since in campaigns ranging from his successful 1978 campaign to governor to his re-election last year.

“I put him between me and people who might have other motivations,” said Alexander.

A brief review of Tennessee Registry of Election Finance campaign finance records indicates Haslam individually gave more than $100,000 to 2014 campaign efforts involving state-level office.

That included $35,000 to the Tennessee Republican Party’s legislative campaign fund, $35,000 to the House and Senate Republican caucuses in the Legislature and most of the rest to various individual candidates — ranging from his son, Bill Haslam, who was campaigning for re-election as governor, to Knoxville Republican legislative candidates such as Sen. Richard Briggs and Rep. Martin Daniel.

It also included $5,000 to Advance Tennessee, a political action committee that targeted several conservative Republican legislators for defeat in last year’s August GOP primary, prompting criticism from several conservative Republicans.

And it included $3,500 in donations to state Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade, who apparently is only the second candidate identified as a Democrat to receive a campaign donation from JimHaslam. The first was the late former Gov. Ned McWherter.

The figures, both state and federal, do not include political donations by family members of Haslam, founder of Pilot Corp., now known as Pilot Flying J. Also excluded is a $20,000 direct corporate contribution from Pilot to the state GOP’s legislative campaign fund.

Son James A. “Jimmy” Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J and brother of the governor, ranked 697 on the Center for Responsive Politics’ list of top federal “hard money” donors in 2014 with $123,500 reported. State-level disclosures indicate Jimmy Haslam roughly matched his father with about $100,000 in donations – often to the same candidates and causes. The senior Haslam’s wife, Natalie, in several cases matched her husband’s donations at both the state and federal level.

Runnerup to Haslam among Tennesseans on the Center for Responsive Politics top donor list for 2014 was Lenda Sherrell of Monteagle at No. 401 with $154,200. But almost all of that was in Democrat Sherrell’s self-financing of her unsuccessful campaign for the 4th District Congressional seat against Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais.

Haslam’s donations included a contribution to DesJarlais’ primary opponent, state Sen. Jim Tracy. His other 2014 contributions included donations to the state’s other incumbent members of the U.S. House.

Other Tennesseans on the list include Willis Johnson of Franklin, CEO of Copart Inc. (No. 422 with $151,100); David Black of Gallatin, head of Aegis Sciences and husband of U.S. Rep. Diane Black (No. 426, $145,500); Fred Smith of Memphis, CEO of Federal Express Inc. (No. 435, $143,100); and William Freeman of Nashville, head of Freeman Webb Co. and currently running for mayor of Nashville (No. 550, $136,400).

“Hard money” donations do not include contrasting “soft money” or “outside” donations on the federal campaign front. Those often include far larger sums and some of those are not disclosed. The Center for Responsive Politics list of top outside money donors is headed by Thomas Steyer of San Francisco with more than $73 million in donations. The top donor of “hard money” — where Haslam came in at No. 284 — was Paul Singer of New York with $571,000 in donations.