Bo Watson joins legislators’ PAC club

Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson has become the latest state legislator to set up his own political action committee, naming the new entity BowPAC and declaring it will help provide the “fuel of funding” for future Republican political successes in Tennessee.

About 30 of Tennessee’s 132 legislators — most of them Republicans — now have their own PACs, kept separate from their re-election campaign accounts, in accord with a trend that has slowly grown since Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey set up RAAMPAC in 2003.

The Legislature’s senior member, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, finally joined the PAC trend late last year by creating McPAC. In an April disclosure McPAC reported a cash-on-hand balance of $36,356 after initial fundraising efforts — most of the money coming in contributions from 26 special interest PACs.

Watson chipped in $500 to McPAC through a personal check, Registry of Election Finance records show. He gave $1,000 to RAAMPAC last year. Now that he has set up BowPAC, of course, he can have the PAC make such donations instead of himself. The PAC name, by the way, ties into both Foy “Bo” Watson’s nickname and the Hixson lawmaker’s penchant for wearing bow neckties.

“As an elected body, the Tennessee Senate has proved its leadership in effective policy for our state that has honored the trust of Tennesseans,” Watson said in announcing the PAC’s formation Friday. “Elections require the fuel of funding and BowPAC will be part of our successes ahead. … Electing leaders who remain focused and committed to our overall goal of effectively serving Tennesseans through a limited, accountable government framework is our task at hand.”

Ramsey, who is retiring from the Senate with McNally as the only announced candidate to succeed him as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor, still has a balance of $414,169 in his PAC at last report and has announced no plan for what he will do with the money. One option would be distribute funds to fellow Republican senators’ leadership PACs and, if so, there are plenty of potential recipients beyond McPAC and BowPAC.

Senators having registered leadership PACs — with PAC name and last reported cash-on-hand balance in parenthesis — include:

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, (MPAC, $224,749); Commerce Committee Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, (Jack PAC, $1,319); Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, (Red State PAC, $2,862); Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, (Quest PAC, $44,675); Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, (The Overbey PAC, $3,046); Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, (Green PAC, $13,800); Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, (JT Leadership PAC, $0).

Norris, Johnson and Watson support McNally’s bid to succeed Ramsey as Senate speaker but have also indicated an interest in succeeding McNally, should he decided to step down after one two-year term in the position — a possibility that McNally has raised. Should a competition develop in the future, the men could use their PACs for donations to other Republican senators. Those senators will, or course, then decide on the next Senate speaker.

Kelsey is one of 13 Republicans seeking the party nomination to the 8th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher. Red State PAC has donated $1,000 to his congressional campaign, records show, and several of his Republican Senate colleagues have also contributed — either through PACs or otherwise, including a $1,000 check from Watson.

Green and Norris have indicated a potential interest in running for governor in 2018. So has House Speaker Beth Harwell, who has more in her leadership PAC than any other state legislator — $659,733 at last report.