As summer heats up and Election Day draws near, opportunities to hobnob with Tennessee lawmakers won’t be hard to find, observes Elizabeth Bewley.
Supporters can go shooting with Rep. Stephen Fincher, spend a weekend in Nashville with Sen. Lamar Alexander, cheer on the Nashville Sounds with Rep. Jim Cooper, dine at Ruth’s Chris Steak House with Rep. Scott DesJarlais, or head to the Honors Course in Ooltewah for a golf weekend with Sen. Bob Corker.
But the price tag isn’t cheap. In exchange for some time with the lawmakers, individual backers must contribute anywhere from $250 to more than $1,000. Political action committees are asked to hand over at least $1,000.
It’s not cheap for lawmakers, either. Unless such events are hosted by companies, party committees or other sponsors — as many are — the expenses come out of a lawmaker’s campaign coffers. Political experts say the cost of putting on fundraising events has shot up over the last two decades as lawmakers feel pressured to host increasingly glamorous or unusual events.
“Races are more expensive today,” said Steven Livingston, a professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University. “If you’re going to ask someone for a huge sum of money, you can’t do it over a ham sandwich.”
…Corker, a Republican, has spent at least $190,000 on catering, venue rentals, invitations and other event costs since January 2011, according to campaign finance reports running through March 31.
His campaign spent $4,292 on event rental charges at Pebble Beach Resorts in California in advance of a December golf weekend his campaign hosted there, plus $5,892 for catering and accommodations at the Honors Course in December. Corker’s highest expenses were $14,115 for invitations and envelopes in February 2011, and $8,466 for invitations in October.
…Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood has spent at least $120,000 on catering, rentals, photography and other event expenses since January 2011, campaign finance reports show. Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Jasper has spent more than $100,000 on catering and other costs labeled “fundraising expenses.”
…Clever campaign managers can bundle certain costs under the label of “consulting fees,” and events hosted by party committees, corporations or lobbyists aren’t listed among a campaign’s expenses, she said.
“This is why there are (campaign) consultants driving around in Mercedes in Washington,” she said. “You get pieces of the puzzle but you really cannot be assured that you have all the pieces.”
For example, Fincher, of Frog Jump, was one of 14 Republicans behind a recent Key Largo getaway with an admission price of at least $10,000, CBS News reported in March.