Gov. Bill Haslam has sent funds from his political action committee to 43 incumbent Republican legislators, including a dozen who face opponents in Thursday’s primary election, according to a report filed last week with the state Registry of Election Finance.
Haslam took $150,000 from his 2014 re-election campaign leftovers and transferred it to his PAC, registered as JOBS4TN. He then distributed the PAC money to the incumbent lawmakers, most of them facing no opposition to re-election either in the primary or general election.
“Those folks who have been really helpful to us, we want to make certain that we help. You aren’t governor by yourself. It really takes the right people in the Legislature to help you,” the governor said in a comment passed along via email from spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals.
The legislators reported receiving Haslam donations while facing Republican primary opposition are Sens. Doug Overbey of Maryville and Dolores Gresham of Somerville along with Reps. David Alexander of Winchester, Mike Carter of Ooltewah, Jimmy Eldridge of Jackson, Jeremey Faison of Cosby, Curtis Halford of Dyer, Gary Hicks of Rogersville, Kelly Keisling of Byrdstown, Charles Sargent of Franklin, Curry Todd of Collierville, Ron Travis of Dayton and Tim Wirgau of Buchanan.
The donated amounts vary from $2,000 to $6,000. The $6,000 donations went to House Speaker Beth Harwell and Sens. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge and Bo Watson of Hixson, along with Reps. Pat Marsh of Shelbyville, Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, Steve McDaniel of Parkers Crossroads, Charles Sargent of Franklin, Eddie Smith of Knoxville and Mark White of Memphis.
Of those, only Sargent faces a formidable opponent in the Thursday primary, though Harwell — with more than $1 million in her re-election account — does face a Democratic opponent in November. So does Smith, whose general election contest with former state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, is generally rated one of the most competitive partisan races in the state.
The other $6,000 recipients are unopposed and — along with several unopposed incumbents getting lesser amounts — often send funds from their campaign accounts to fellow incumbents who do face challenges. Such money churning in legislative campaigns is fairly common.
Those getting $5,000 donations include challenged incumbents Alexander, Carter, Faison, Halford, Hicks and Wirgau. Of those, Carter, Hicks and Wirgau are generally rated as facing somewhat close races while Alexander and Faison are heavily favored.
As reported by The Associated Press last week, Haslam sometimes couples events where he speaks in support of favored legislative candidates with events in their districts involving nonpolitical functions, including announcements of state funding for local projects.
In Bristol last week, the governor praised Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, in a speech announcing a local business expansion, according to the Kingsport Times-News, declaring: “If you want somebody to put on a show, Jon’s not your guy. If you want somebody who’s going to do hard work and find the right answer and do the things that are the best for the state, Jon is the guy.”
Asked afterward if he is endorsing Lundberg, one of three candidates for the GOP nomination to succeed retiring Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey in his Senate seat, the governor told the newspaper: “We don’t get in the business of endorsing people, but I will be very pleased to have Jon in the state Senate taking Lt. Gov. (Ron) Ramsey’s place.”
Haslam gave no money to candidates in open seats, as the case in Lundberg’s race, but nonetheless may have indicated his preference.
Donnals said in her email that it’s fair to assume Haslam is endorsing candidates that have received financial contributions, but “it is definitely not fair or accurate to assume he opposes legislators he hasn’t contributed to.
“There could be many reasons — the legislator has a big balance, a non-completive race, didn’t ask, etc.,” she said