Tag Archives: PACs

State PAC numbers down in 2015, contributions steady

In its 2015 annual report released last week, the state Registry of Election Finance reports $3.85 million in political action committee donations were made during the year — virtually the same as in 2013, the last nonelection year.

That compares to $6.8 million in PAC donations to candidates during the 2014 election year, a figure that was down from the state record of $8.2 million in 2012. All figures cover only donations directly to candidates, excluding those that went from one PAC to another, such as an industry PAC donating to a legislative leader’s PAC.

In 2014, the Registry reported a record $3.25 million in PAC “independent expenditures” in addition to the $8.2 million in candidate contributions — typically advertising supporting or opposing a legislative candidate without a direct donation to a campaign. No such expenditures appear in the report for 2015, a non-election year.

The 2015 report also shows that the number of registered PACs dropped to 620, reversing an overall trend toward creation of more PACs in almost all recent years. In 2015, 73 PACs were closed while only 37 new PACs opened accounts with the Registry, the report says, though adding a cautionary note.

“With 2016 being an election year, we expect to see more new PACs registered. The trend of more overall PACs being registered and large number of PACs closing and opening will continue to increase the demands on the Registry each year,” the report says. “The Registry will need to continue to become more efficient in order to meet its mandated duties.”
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Campaign finance figures for top TN politicians, PACs

Gov. Bill Haslam has stashed far less election year money in his political action committee — typically used to help political friends and build good will — than several other Tennessee officeholders maintaining such accounts, according to campaign finance disclosures filed last week.

A review of disclosures also shows U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump, who announced last week that he will not seek re-election to the 8th Congressional District seat, has the highest cash balance in his own campaign fund than any other U.S. House member, more than $2.7 million. Among all Tennessee politicians, that’s topped only by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker with $5.6 million in his campaign bank.

In the case of federal officeholders, reports filed with the Federal Election Commission cover the final quarter of 2015, ending Dec. 31. State officeholders’ reports, filed with the Registry of Election Finance, cover the period July 1, 2015 through Jan. 15, 2016.

State House Speaker Beth Harwell continues to hold the highest cash balance in a leadership PAC operated by a Tennessee politician, $670,276. Harwell PAC collected about $106,000 in the reporting period — the biggest check being $25,000 from Nashville businessman David Ingram — and spent a little more than $78,000 in contributions to Republican House candidates, incumbents and two candidates in open seats.
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Memphis PAC dodges donor disclosure until after election

A group of well-known Memphis businessmen was behind a political action committee that opposed former mayor A C Wharton’s reelection last year, according to the PAC’s financial disclosure Thursday and reviewed by the Commercial Appeal.

Neighborhood Alliance PAC includes several supporters of Mayor Jim Strickland, including developer and Shelby County Schools board member Billy Orgel, Paul Boyle and Mark Halperin of real estate firm Boyle Investment Company, and HealthChoice CEO Mitch Graves.

Strickland said Friday that he didn’t know, and the “chances are zero” that his campaign staff knew, who was funding Neighborhood Alliance.

Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said the group passed their donations through another PAC, which avoided having to disclose the donations until after the Oct. 8 election.

The PAC received all of its $113,000 in donations in September from another PAC, Conservatives for Effective Government, according to disclosures filed before the election. Conservatives for Effective Government received $132,500 in September from six people and one company, all from Memphis.

That doesn’t violate any election rules, although Libowitz said the approach put up a “roadblock to transparency.”

Bike bill transformed into attack on teachers union PAC

UPDATE: The bill passed the Senate 21-9 Monday.

A bill that originally addressed how students should wear bicycle helmets will hit the Tennessee Senate floor today with an amendment critics say aims to punish the state’s largest teachers union for legal political activity, reports the Times-Free Press.

Sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, Senate Bill 151 began life last year as a measure urging the state Department of Education to include information in a pilot bicycle safety program about “the proper use and positioning of bicycle helmets.”

In last week’s Senate Education Committee meeting, Gardenhire introduced an amendment, quickly adopted, that completely rewrote the bill.

It no longer mentions bicycles or helmets.

Now the bill zeroes in on educators’ automatic payroll deductions to a professional organization that also runs a political action committee.

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA), which has thousands of members, is the only teachers group that fits the description. Another group, the Professional Educators of Tennessee has no PAC.

Gardenhire’s “Fair Access to Collection of Teacher Support Act” would bar employee dues check-offs by local school systems “for a professional employee organization, if any of that organization’s funds are contributed in any way to another organization that engages in political activity.”

TEA leaders, who had no inkling of what Gardenhire planned, were stunned.

“It would target TEA for its political activity,” charged Jim Wrye, TEA’s chief lobbyist. “It would eliminate payroll deduction for our members. We’ve had payroll deduction for decades. It’s just a slot on a paycheck just like United Way or the Farm Bureau or any other entity.”

Wrye argued that “teachers need to be politically active, you know, when we have all of these out-of-state special interests pouring in tons of money. We need to stand up for our schools and our communities.”

Asked about the amendment Sunday, Gardenhire said “one group has a monopoly of collecting dues” because many districts say their computers can’t work in other groups for automatic deductions.

“We’re giving an unfair advantage to a particular association and there’s other associations that are vying for membership and have a good representation. And we ought to treat them all equal.”

Moreover, Gardenhire also said he’s seen where TEA is “even now working on a way to set it up [dues deduction] up outside [local school systems], with people writing a check or through a credit or debit card. They’re already anticipating this. So I thought it would be a good time to get the process going and make sure everyone’s on an equal footing.”

But Gardenhire, vice chairman of the Education Committee, acknowledged the TEA’s political activity factored into the bill.

“That was certainly part of it,” the lawmaker said, but quickly added, “They’ve given me political contributions in the past. I just think it’s the right thing to do.”

Bush-backing Super PAC opens TN TV advertising

Right to Rise, a Super PAC that supports Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, has made what may be the first TV ad by for the March 1 Tennessee presidential preference primary, according to The Tennessean.

The PAC has reserved commercial slots totaling $173,975 in the Nashville area to air ads on both WTVF-TV and WKRN-TV from Feb. 9 through Feb. 29.

Dollar figures are according to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission on Friday. The wave of ads in Nashville is part of what Right to Rise USA spokesman Paul Lindsay says will be more than $1 million spent by the pro-Bush Super PAC in Tennessee on TV ads over the three weeks ahead of Election Day on March 1. He said the plan is for TV ads to total $258,360 in Nashville overall.

“March 1 states like Tennessee are the front end of what will be a very long Republican primary process,” Lindsay said in an email to The Tennessean. “We’re in it for the long haul, and we think Jeb’s conservative record and vision are a good fit for Tennessee.”

Tennessee’s Republican primary is part of a so-called “SEC Primary” on March 1 that includes multiple southern states. Early voting in Tennessee begins Feb. 10.

Though several Republican candidates have campaigned in Middle Tennessee, no candidate in either party has aired television commercials in Nashville. Instead, campaigns have spent most of their resources in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The Bush Super PAC is the first entity — political action committee or candidate — to make ad purchases in the Middle Tennessee media market. More will likely soon follow.

Three more TN legislators launch PACs

Three Republican state legislators — Sens. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge and Janice Bowling of Tullahoma along with Rep. Pat Marsh of Shelbyville — have recently joined the trend toward lawmakers establishing their own political action committees.

McNally, the Senate Finance Committee chairman and the General Assembly’s most senior member, has founded McPAC and scheduled its first fundraiser for Monday evening, the eve of the 2016 session that starts Tuesday at noon, reports The Tennessee Journal. Once the session begins, there’s a blackout on incumbent legislator fundraising that continues until adjournment.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a pioneer in the operation of “leadership PACs” set up by individual lawmakers, also has a Monday evening fundraiser scheduled. He launched RAAMPAC in 2004.

Bowling’s new PAC is, logically enough, registered as Bowling PAC — perhaps following the example of House Speaker Beth Harwell’s Harwell PAC.

Marsh, who chairs the House Business and Utilities Committee, chose the name Marsh for Tennessee Business PAC.

Among other recently established PACs is one set up by John Avery Emison, a former Knoxvillian who has been much involved in anti-annexation efforts over the years as a leader of Citizens for Home Rule. The registered name is Citizens for Home Rule PAC and Emison is using a post office box in his current hometown of Alamo, Tenn., as the group’s address.

Sunday column: On an ignored law, liquor stores and Scam PACs

An elderly, gray-haired and rather wrinkled lady with a walking cane, ahead of yours truly in the line to buy a bottle of wine at a liquor store recently, was asked for her driver’s license to show that she was older than 21 and legally entitled to buy an alcoholic beverage.

“That’s the law,” said the clerk, eyeing the $50 bill the lady had laid on the counter.

“I don’t have one. It expired. I don’t drive anymore,” she replied, quickly adding that “Johnny does.”

Johnny, standing beside her, turned out to be her 20-something grandson who had driven her to the store in helping her run errands for the day. Johnny produced his photo ID and made the purchase for his grandmother, using her $50 bill.

“That’s really not the law anymore,” I volunteered as they stepped aside. “As of July 1 this year, the Legislature changed things. Now, if a person reasonably appears to be 50 years of age or older, presentation of a photo ID is not required. I’d say this lady reasonably appears to be over 50. Maybe even more than I do.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said the clerk. “Can I see your driver’s license, please?”
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Total Nashville mayor’s race spending: $16.8M

A total of almost $17 million was spent in the recently-completed Nashville mayoral race, according to a review of final disclosures by the Tennessean. Almost half the money was from the wealthy candidates themselves.

Final campaign finance numbers from Nashville’s 2015 mayor’s race — won in September by Megan Barry — are now clear after the release this month of third quarter financial disclosures from all seven candidates and two Super PACs that were active in the race.

Candidates and Super PACs accounted for $16,820,277 in spending — a figure that crushed spending from Nashville’s last open mayor’s race in 2007, as well as this month’s mayoral election in Memphis won by Jim Strickland. The majority of overall spending, which covers activity in both the general and runoff elections, went toward television advertising.

Bill Freeman’s mayoral campaign spent $5,056,479 over the entire mayoral race, by far the most of any candidate… Freeman, a wealthy real estate executive and Democratic fundraiser who finished a close third behind Barry and David Fox in the August election, put in $3,828,899 in personal money toward his campaign overall, also the most among any candidates.

Candidates cumulatively pumped in $8,229,556 in personal self-funding in this year’s mayoral race, according to a tally of all financial reports…Nashville’s mayoral race attracted $7,725,395 in contributions from individual donors. In comparison the recently concluded mayor’s race in Memphis generated more than $1,700,000 in campaign fundraising — although that number will rise after candidates there submit one more round of campaign finance disclosures.

Ethics complaint filed against Fincher

A government watchdog group has filed an ethics complaint against U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher and 10 other members of Congress claiming they accepted campaign contributions from the payday lending industry shortly before or after they took a series of steps supporting the industry.

Further from Michael Collins:

The Campaign for Accountability’s complaint, filed Monday with the Office of Congressional Ethics, asks for an investigation into whether the 11 members’ actions “violated House rules and criminal law.”

“It seems payday loans taken out by their constituents helped fund big paydays for members of Congress who used their positions to advocate on behalf of this unscrupulous industry,” the organization’s executive director, Anne Weismann, said in a statement.

The allegations against Fincher, a Frog Jump, Tenn., Republican who sits on the House Financial Services Committee, involve $13,500 in contributions from the payday lending industry or its executives.

According to the complaint:
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New mystery PACs enter Memphis mayor’s race

Little has been made public about two new PACS trying to influence the Memphis election, reports the Commercial Appeal. One is called Neighborhood Alliance PAC and has at least filed a campaign disclosure.

The other, called Citizens for a Brighter Memphis, hasn’t done that much, but hit mailboxes in recent days with as many as three mail pieces attacking mayoral candidate Jim Strickland.

It prompted a pointed response from Strickland as a contentious mayor’s race traveled down a new road: deciphering the origins of outside money.

Third-party groups’ spending would be in addition to what’s already believed to be a record-breaking amount of money in this year’s mayor’s race — nearly $1.6 million raised just for the Strickland and Mayor A C Wharton campaigns alone.

Citizens for a Brighter Memphis’ mail pieces claim Strickland cut school funding and that he would “weaken our police force.” One mailer urges recipients to vote for Wharton.

…No group called Citizens for a Brighter Memphis is registered with the Shelby County Election Commission or the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. The only known pro-Wharton political action committee is Memphis First PAC, which had not filed a disclosure as of Friday afternoon.

…Meanwhile, Neighborhood Alliance PAC’s Thursday financial disclosure with the Shelby County Election Commission still doesn’t tell much about who is behind that group, but it does show it’s well-financed.

The political action committee reported $113,000 in receipts and $95,355 in spending on the election in September, leaving $17,645 to spend in the week before the race. The group formally disclosed in the filing that its expenses are in opposition to Wharton.