Finance disclosures filed in House District 14: Carson ahead in spending

Karen Carson has outspent Jason Zachary in Knoxville’s state House District 14 special election so far, but Zachary has more money on hand for the final days of campaigning, according to disclosures filed Wednesday with the state Registry of Election Finance.

Carson, a Knox County school board member, reported expenditures of $32,318 from July 1 through Aug. 2. She had previously reported spending of $6,336, a total of just under $39,000 for the abbreviated campaign to succeed former state Rep. Ryan Haynes, who vacated the seat in April to become Tennessee Republican Party chairman.

Zachary, a businessman who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. in last year’s 2nd Congressional District Republican primary, reported spending just $7,929 during the same period. Coupled with $6,336 in earlier expenditures, his total spending is now just over $14,000.

But Zachary reported $21,111 cash on hand while Carson has $11,475. No further disclosures are required until Sept. 22, by which time the winner of the seat will have been decided. No Democrat is seeking the seat, so the Aug. 12 Republican primary will effectively decide Haynes’ successor.

The general election is Sept. 29, the same date as city elections.

Knox County Election Administrator Cliff Rodgers said Wednesday the special election will cost taxpayers “north of $100,000” but probably less than $150,000, with the exact figure to be determined as his office strives to keep down costs in a low turnout contest while complying with state law designed for bigger contests.

Through Tuesday, 1,791 people had cast early votes in the election, he said, adding he is optimistic that at least 2,500 or more will vote by election day.

The two candidates meet tonight in their first and only debate of the campaign, an event sponsored by the West Knox Republican Club.

Carson’s disclosed donors in the Wednesday reporting include James A. “Jim” Haslam II, father of Gov. Bill Haslam, and his wife, Natalie ($500), along with a political action committee operated by Duncan ($750) and state Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville ($1,000). Other PACs donating to Carson included those representing the state’s forestry industry, real estate agents and engineers.

Carson also reported loaning her campaign $2,000 in the most recent period. She had earlier reported a $5,000 loan, so she now has a total of $7,000 in loans. Zachary reported no loans to his campaign.

Zachary in his prior report listed five incumbent state legislators — or, in two cases, the PACs operated by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada and Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey — as donors to his campaign. He had no new prominent state politicians listed as donors in Wednesday’s filing.

PACs contributing to Zachary’s cause included those operated by AT&T ($500); the Tennessee Firearms Association, a Second Amendment advocacy group ($250); and the Tennessee Natural Resources Development PAC, which is funded largely by a coal producing company and machinery manufacturer ($500).

Tennessee Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, has publicly endorsed Zachary, and the organization’s executive director says it has sent mailings to about 2,000 households in the district. But the cost of such independent expenditures by Right to Life’s PAC — and any others that have occurred since July 1 — need not be disclosed under state law until October.

Other quirks in state law, designed for multi-candidate elections, have also added to the cost of the special election, Rodgers said. For example, state law requires all central voting locations — in Knoxville’s current case, the City County building — to be open for early voting on Saturdays.

That meant the City County building had to be open last Saturday, Rodgers said, with the Election Commission paying overtime in case a voter came by — but none did. The district covers a portion of West Knox County, including Farragut, where other precincts were open for early voting and more convenient to voters than driving downtown.

Rodgers also said he has been “amazed” at the number of “otherwise educated voters” who have tried to vote in the special election but who were turned away because they do not live within the District 14 boundaries. On the other hand, he said, many eligible voters may be unaware that an election is underway despite efforts to inform them.

At least 15 people have voted in the Democratic primary for District 14, Rodgers said, even though there is no Democratic primary. State law allows write-in nominations when no candidate is running, but to have the votes officially counted, a candidate must be certified as a write-in candidate. No Democrat has done so.

Rodgers said some of the 15 voters might be people who simply want to declare they have always voted in a Democratic primary, even if there is no one on the ballot.