Knoxvillian Roy Cockrum, recently designated as one of Tennessee’s 11 presidential electors by the state Democratic Party, has become a major donor to Democratic political causes since winning a Powerball lottery jackpot in 2014, a review of financial disclosure records indicates.
“He’s a big Hillary (Clinton) supporter,” said Tennessee Democratic Chair Mary Mancini in a telephone interview.
When he won the Powerball jackpot in June of 2014, Cockrum opted to collect the lump sum payout of $153.5 million rather than the $259.8 million payout that would have applied if spread out in annuitized payments.
In a news conference at the time, Cockrum, a 58-year-old bachelor, said he left his native Knoxville for college and after graduation spent 20 years as an actor and stage manager before taking a vow of poverty to serve in a religious order, the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an Episcopal religious community in Massachusetts. He left the order and returned to Knoxville in 2009 to care for his aging and ill parents.
Cockrum also declared then that he had already committed most of his winnings to charitable causes — saying he hoped to head off a flood of pleas for money from others — and has since set up a nonprofit foundation to make donations.
But state and federal financial disclosures show he has also since donated more than $300,000 to Democrat-oriented political causes.
Top reported recipients of Cockrum donations as listed by the Center for Responsive Politics: About $135,000 to a political action committee operated by the Democratic National Committee; $66,000 for a national group dedicated to electing Democratic U.S. senators; $32,400 to a similar organization helping Democrats get elected to the U.S. House; and at least $20,000 to the Tennessee Democratic Party.
He has also given smaller donations to PACs supporting Clinton’s presidential campaign with independent expenditures, several Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate and House in other state and $5,400 directly to the Clinton campaign. Among the out of state contributions was a $2,700 contribution to the House re-election campaign of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who recently resigned as DNC national chair after reports in leaked emails indicated Schultz had favored Clinton over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont during the party’s presidential primary.
Beyond donating to the state Democratic Party, disclosures show rather limited contributions in state-level campaigns. He did contribute $2,500 to Cheri Siler, the 2014 Democratic nominee in the state’s 7th Senate District. Siler lost to Republican state Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville.
Cynthia Moxley, a Knoxville public relations consultant who has served as spokeswoman for Cockrum, said he did not wish to comment beyond this statement sent via email: “I can confirm I will have the honor of serving as a Presidential Elector for the 2nd Congressional District for the Clinton/Kaine ticket.”
Sunday she did not believe he would agree to a telephone interview, being a “very private person,” but would ask. No return call was received.
Under state and federal law, both the Democratic and Republican state parties select a slate of 11 presidential electors — one for each of the state’s nine congressional districts plus two for U.S. Senate seats. Cockrum was chosen as elector for Democrats in the 2nd Congressional District.
The slate that gets to actually cast Electoral College votes for president after the November general election depends on the candidate who carries Tennessee in that election. Polls indicate that will probably be Republican nominee Donald Trump, though polls also indicate Democratic nominee Clinton is ahead in the national contest.
Others designated as Democratic electors include Richard Eskind of Nashville, husband of the late Jane Eskind, the first woman to hold statewide elective office in Tennessee and once the party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate; Andrea Conte, wife of former Gov. Phil Bredesen; and Mike McWherter, son of the late former Gov. Ned McWherter.
The Republican slate of electors is mostly composed of people serving on the state Republican Executive Committee, including 2nd Congressional District elector Susan Mills of Maryville. GOP electors not serving on the executive committee include Jason Mumpower of Bristol, who serves as deputy state comptroller, and Tom Lawless, a Nashville lawyer who serves as a Republican member of the Registry of Election Finance board overseeing campaign finance law enforcement.