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Tennesseans continue to spend heavily in federal races

5:48 PM, Nov 3, 2012   |    comments
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By PAUL C. BARTON, Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Tennesseans continue to empty their pocketbooks for the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

A comprehensive look at Volunteer State donations, an analysis by the Gannett Washington Bureau of data provided by the Federal Election Commission, reflects the ever-increasing variety of ways donors can make their presence felt.

Tennesseans give directly to candidates, to their company's political action committee through payroll deductions, to national PACs, to the new "Super PACs" and to state and national political party committees.

As of Oct. 31, they had contributed:

  • $20.3 million in individual contributions to candidates.
  • $18. 4 million in contributions to political action committees
  • $6.5 million to super PACs, entities created following major federal court rulings in 2010 that can spend unlimited amounts on elections as long it is not coordinated with individual candidates.
  • $8.69 million to political parties.

In all, the spending represents more than 147,000 transactions over a two-year period, 2011-2012.

The spending is part of a nationwide frenzy that the Center for Responsive Politics is now calling the most expensive election cycle in U.S. history, with the final tab for presidential and congressional races expected to top $6 billion. The center is a Washington research organization that tracks political dollars.

Federal court decisions in 2010 reshaped campaign finance laws, creating new "pockets" where donors could put their money, said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy group for campaign finance reform.

In addition to candidates, PACs, Super PACs and party committees, donors can also write checks to groups organized as nonprofits or trade associations under the federal tax code.

"Making a political contribution certainly amplifies a person's voice," McGehee said.

"The problem is whose voices are amplified. Currently, only 0.26 percent of all Americans give more than $200 in federal elections. So all these new "pockets" amplify the voice of the wealthiest segment of America," McGehee said.

Wealthy Tennesseans have been among those giving generously, with 26 giving at least $80,000 or more to political campaigns and organizations involved in federal races.

They include Andrew Miller of Healthmark Ventures in Nashville at $170,000; Willis Johnson of Franklin, chairman of Copart, at $100,000; Randy D. Boyd of Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville at $98,300; Jenny Boyd of Boyd Entertainment in Knoxville at $90,800; Henry Rodes Hart of Brentwood at $90,800; William F. Hagerty, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, and his wife Christine, at $166,750; and Molly Anderson of Molly Anderson Productions in Knoxville at $83,300.

And then there are prominent families.

The Ingrams of Nashville have given $554,880. Orrin Ingram, chairman of Ingram Industries Inc., has given $118,900.

The Haslams, known first because of their association with Pilot Corporation of Knoxville and now because Bill Haslam occupies the governor's residence, have combined to dole out $894,950.

Some spending has come in the name of Tennessee corporations themselves rather from individuals, such as $100,000 from Pilot and $100,000 each from Thompson Machinery Commerce Corp. of La Vergne and Ebon Falcon of Nashville.

Amounts from Tennesseans to specific candidates include $4.95 million to Republican Sen. Bob Corker, out of $14.2 million he's raised overall; $3.12 million to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney; $1.84 million to President Barack Obama; $1.08 million to Rep. Steve Fincher, R-Frog Jump, out of $2.18 million he raised overall; $670,169 to Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, out of $3.57 million she raised overall; and $628,560 to Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, out of $1.34 million he raised overall.

In addition, state residents have given Romney Victory Inc. and the Obama Victory Fund, political committees separate from the presidential campaign funds, $6.63 million and $2.27 million, respectively.

Tennesseans have shown a willingness to spread money nationally to other presidential candidates as well, including $373,333 to libertarian Ron Paul; $268,731 to Republican Newt Gingrich; $220,494 to Republican Rick Santorum; $216,772 to Republican Herman Cain and $66,489 to Republican Michele Bachmann.

Political action committees who have gotten the most in Tennessee contributions include Federal Express PAC, associated with Federal Express of Memphis, at $855,539; International Paper PAC at $366,299; Federation of American Hospitals PAC at $270,865; Eastman PAC, associated with Eastman Chemical, at $184,864; Tenn PAC at $169,000; and the LifePoint Hospitals Inc. Good Government Committee at $149,112.

Tennessee contributions to Super PACs included $5.27 million to Freedom Works, the tea party-related Super PAC created by Dick Armey, the former House Republican leader from Texas. The money came from a mysterious Knoxville company called the Specialty Group.

Other Super PAC donations include $378,547 to Restore Our Future, which supports Romney; $265,425 to American Crossroads, the group founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove; and $180,000 to Citizens 4 Ethics in Government, a group that tried to defeat Black in this year's Republican Primary.

Among political party committees, Tennesseans have given $4.13 million to the Republican National Committee and $1.32 million to the Tennessee Republican Party; followed by $894,633 to the Tennessee Democratic Party; $670,964 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee; $571,296 to the National Republican Congressional Committee; $330,563 going to the Democratic National Committee; and $203,821 going to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

And the Libertarian National Committee got $81,830.

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Contact Paul C. Barton at pbarton@gannett.com

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