Blue Money

Illustration Eddie Smith Gloria Johnson

Blue Money

In Knox County’s tightest race, Democratic challenger Gloria Johnson
has outraised Republican Rep. Eddie Smith.

by jesse fox mayshark • october 16, 2018


Democratic state House candidate Gloria Johnson had a good third quarter.

Competing PACs pit labor organizations against business groups.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the state, from July 1 to Sept. 30, Johnson raised $70,253.56 -- easily topping the $46,507 reported for the same period by her opponent, Republican Rep. Eddie Smith.

The race for the 13th District seat held by Smith is the most obviously competitive local contest on the Nov. 6 ballot. Johnson won the seat in 2012, then was narrowly ousted by Smith in 2014, and Smith held her off in another close win in 2016.

As one of the relatively few swing seats in the state, it has attracted attention and funding from across Tennessee, and beyond.

“I worked my tail off, but I didn’t expect to do that well,” Johnson said. “It’s because of all the energy, people are excited and wanting to help.”

Smith, for his part, attributed some of Johnson’s edge to out-of-state support. “We’ve kept all of our fundraising in the state,” he said Monday. “I know my opponent did raise quite a bit of money from Washington, D.C.-based interests. We’re working to represent the interests of the 13th House District, not Washington, D.C., interests.”

Johnson said that was an unfair characterization, saying that she had hundreds more donors than Smith from within the district. She did report a third-quarter $1,500 contribution from the political action committee of the United Food and Commercial Workers union in Washington, D.C., and in previous reporting periods this year she has reported contributions from two other D.C.-based labor groups: AFSCME, which contributed $500, and CWA-COPE, which sent her $2,000.

But, Johnson said, those unions all have members “who work in this district -- and they’re on the ground working for me.”

Both candidates reported PAC donations, largely from Tennessee-based interests. Those contributions break down along predictable party lines, with Johnson pulling support from labor groups and Smith from business associations.

Johnson’s largest contributions come from the Democratic-based alliance Tennessee Tomorrow, which gave $9,100, and the Memphis-based Asbestos Workers Local 90, which gave $7,800 on top of another $7,800 earlier in the year.

Other Johnson supporters include the Brushy Mountain Prison Employees Union ($1,000), Tennessee Nurses ($500) and Tennessee State Council SEIU ($500).

Smith attracted donations from the National Federation of Independent Business ($1,000), Tennessee Bankers Association ($1,000), Concerned Automotive Retailers ($1,000), Friends of Tennessee Hospital Association ($750) and Insurors of Tennessee ($500), among others.

Smith also received $1,000 from the Tennessee Federation for Children, the state branch of the American Federation for Children, which lobbies for school vouchers and charter schools.

Still, PACs accounted for only a minority of funding for either candidate -- $11,700 for Smith and $27,816.75 for Johnson. Smith also reported $10,250 in contributions from the campaign funds of fellow Republican legislators across the state.

The third quarter totals put Johnson on top for the year in fundraising, with a total of $149,410.56 to Smith’s $81,332. But that’s a misleading figure, because as a sitting legislator, Smith was forbidden from fundraising while the Legislature was in session through April.

Counting the money that each of them started the year with, Johnson has banked a total of $153,258.56 in 2018, to Smith’s $124,786. But Smith had outspent Johnson through the end of September, $68,852.40 to $51,558.19.

Heading into the final five weeks of the campaign, Johnson had $99,034.69 on hand, to Smith’s $61,734.63.

Smith said he thinks voters in the district are differentiating between frustration with national politics and satisfaction with the trajectory of the state. Citing his success in helping secure funding for the school system’s Project GRAD program and the county’s Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center, he said, “The people in this district know what I have been doing on their behalf, and they are very happy with it.”

For her part, Johnson said, “The game plan is just do everything we can to get out our voters. It’s just going to be knocking on doors and talking to people.”

Early voting in Knox County begins tomorrow