From zero to $88,000, which candidates have raised the most in the Knox County primaries? And who’s giving it?
by jesse fox mayshark • february 5, 2020
If you try to download Property Assessor John Whitehead’s latest campaign finance report from the Knox County Election Commission website, your internet browser might freeze up.
In several school board and County Commission races, challengers are outraising incumbents.
The reason? Whitehead’s report for the period from July 1, 2019, to Jan. 15, 2020, is 39 pages long. Whitehead, who is running for a second consecutive term (after serving two previous terms from 2000-2008), logged $88,025 in contributions from more than 130 donors.
That not only puts him well ahead of his challenger in the Republican primary, Tina Marshall, who reported $9,537.65 for the period. It makes Whitehead far and away the top fundraiser among candidates in the March 3 county primaries.
A review of the candidate filings for countywide offices, County Commission seats and school board positions show a wide range of fundraising efforts, including several races where challengers are significantly outpacing incumbents.
With a shortened campaign window between New Year’s Day and the primary election, candidates have limited time for door-knock retail politics. Having cash on hand is particularly important for those with limited name recognition, so they can pay for yard signs, mailers and other vehicles to boost their profiles.
Here’s a look at the races and who’s contributing to them. (You can review all the forms yourself on the Knox County Election Commission website, except for the public defender and criminal court races, which are on the state website.)
Property Assessor: This is one of those elected offices the general public tends to not think much about, except during state-mandated reappraisals every four years. Theoretically, there shouldn’t be anything political about the office — residential and commercial property is valued based on market conditions and the attributes of the property itself.
But a look at Whitehead’s voluminous filing makes clear that a lot of people in the real estate business think it’s in their interest to support a candidate for the office. (To make it easier to access, Compass has uploaded the list as two files, here and here.)
A raft of developers have contributed $500 or more to Whitehead, including Oliver Smith IV, Tim Graham, Darby Campbell, John Huber, Scott Davis, Doug Horne, Nicholas Cazana, Steve Maddox and multiple employees of Lawler-Wood.
Also prominent on Whitehead’s list are a range of real estate professionals, construction industry CEOs, landlords and hotel owners.
Marshall, in contrast, lists only 14 donors, all but three of whom gave less than $500. Only one lists an occupation in real estate.
Law Director: At first glance, the Republican primary between David Buuck and Cathy Quist-Shanks is close on the money front. Buuck reported raising $24,849.47 to Quist-Shanks’ $22,540.
The difference is that Buuck’s almost all came from donors, while $22,240 of Quist-Shanks’ total came from a personal loan she made to her campaign. Buuck has been raising money since last summer — his earliest contribution is dated July 1, 2019 — while Quist-Shanks didn’t declare her candidacy until just before the Dec. 12 filing deadline.
Buuck’s literal number one supporter, the first name on his donor list, is current Law Director Bud Armstrong. Buuck is currently Armstrong’s chief deputy and has been his right-hand man throughout Armstrong’s tenure.
His other contributors include DeRoyal Industries owner Pete DeBusk; private attorneys Mark Mamantov, Rufus Beamer and Mark Hartsoe; and current Law Department staff lawyers David Wigler and Daniel Sanders.
Nearly one-third of Buuck’s total, $8,100, is from the political action committee of Citizens for Home Rule, the anti-annexation group that bedeviled former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe. Buuck represented the group for years while he was in private practice.
Public Defender: Speaking of Ashe, he is one of just a few identified donors to Public Defender Eric Lutton, who is facing attorney Rhonda Lee in the Republican primary. Lutton reported $750 in donations plus a $5,000 personal loan to his campaign.
Lee reported $4,400 in contributions with the largest being $1,000 from Stowers Machinery CEO Wes Stowers, a prominent Republican donor. Other contributors include nine local lawyers and two private investigators.
Criminal Court Judge: Kyle Hixson, who was named by Gov. Bill Lee to the Criminal Court judgeship vacated by the retired Bob McGee, is well ahead of his challenger Wesley Stone in fundraising for the Republican primary.
Hixson reported more than $60,000 in contributions plus a $50,000 loan from himself, giving him $110,656 in total receipts. His donor list has a lot of prominent Republican names, including many attorneys.
It includes Ashe, Haslam family member David Colquitt, former school board Chair Doug Harris, Nadim Jubran, state Rep. Martin Daniel, and lawyers James Bell, James Corcoran, David Eldridge, Tommy Hindman, Greg Isaacs and John Valliant, among others.
Stone, meanwhile, reported $32,400 in contributions, also largely from attorneys including Albert Harb, Wayne Kline, T.K. Smith and Mike Whalen.
Of the seven Commission seats up for election this year, only four have contested races — and only three feature primary contests.
1st District: The only competitive county Democratic primary on the ballot next month pits incumbent Commissioner Evelyn Gill against challenger Dasha Lundy. Lundy has reported more contributions than Gill to date, with $6,519 to Gill’s $964.
Gill’s largest contribution of $250 came from Parkridge resident David Anderson, a former president of the neighborhood organization.
Lundy’s largest contributions are $1,600 from the campaign of former City Council candidate Charles Lomax Jr., and $1,000 from developer Tim Hill, who has done a lot of redevelopment work downtown in the heart of the 1st District.
Other names of note on Lundy’s list are former school board Chair Sam Anderson and former Vice Mayor Duane Grieve. (Grieve is executive director of the East Tennessee Community Design Center, where Lundy is on the board.)
4th District: With no incumbent running, the Republican primary in this West Knox district has generated the highest cumulative donations of any Commission race so far. Developers and construction interests figure on both sides of the ledger.
Scott Broyles, CEO of the National Safe Skies Alliance, reported $19,125 in contributions. Kyle Ward, owner of Ward Waste Solutions, reported $11,766.09.
Broyles’s list features a roll call of prominent Republicans: Stowers, Colquitt, Trust Company CEO Sharon Pryse, developer Scott Davis, Denark Construction CEO Raja Jubran and Sherri Lee. Also among his donors are County Commissioner Larsen Jay, school board member Virginia Babb, and former City Council members Finbarr Saunders and Nick Pavlis.
Much of Ward’s support comes from developers and real estate professionals including Davis (who is apparently covering his bets in this race), Tim Graham and Holrob president Mark Shipe.
5th District: Apart from the property assessor’s race, the largest fundraising disparity is in this southwest Knox County district, which includes Farragut and Concord. Incumbent John Schoonmaker, who is completing his first full term, reported zero money raised. His challenger in the Republican primary, pastor and lawyer Clayton Wood, reported $15,425.
Wood’s largest contributors include Colquitt, Scott Davis, former school board Chair Doug Harris, investor Jordan Mollenhour (who is also Wood’s campaign treasurer) and Andy Johnson, CEO of wine and spirits distributor Beverage Control Inc.
Four school board seats are up this year, and three have contested primaries. In two of them, challengers have significantly outraised incumbents.
School board races are nonpartisan, by state law. If any candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, their name will be the only one on the ballot for the Aug. 6 county general election.
2nd District: In this North Knoxville district, one-term incumbent Jennifer Owen reported raising $1,000, while challenger John Meade reported $14,700.
Owen, a former teacher, joined the board in 2016 as part of the wave of reaction against the policies of former Superintendent Jim McIntyre. She personally contributed $500 to her campaign. Among her other donors is longtime local Democratic Party activist Jim Jennings.
Meade’s largest contributors include Colquitt, Doug Harris and Raja Jubran. Also on his list are former County Executive Tommy Schumpert; Denark executive Grant Rosenberg, who is running as a Republican for the 2nd District Commission seat in the August general election; and former school board member Tracie Sanger, who held the seat before Owen.
3rd District: This northwest Knoxville district presents a somewhat similar situation as the 2nd. Incumbent Tony Norman also joined the board in 2016 as part of the anti-McIntyre wave. He reported raising no money during the period.
His challenger, nonprofit director Daniel Watson, reported raising $20,182.65 — with a lot of help from one of Knoxville’s most prominent families.
Watson shares several contributors with Meade: Harris, Colquitt and Raja Jubran are all on his list. They are joined by Jim Haslam II and his wife, Natalie; Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam and his wife, Dee; Rodney Lawler, Pete Claussen and County Commissioner Larsen Jay.
8th District: Things are quiet on the fundraising front in this rural East Knox County primary. Incumbent Mike McMillan reported raising $1,500, more than his two challengers combined: Adam Brown reported $100, and Leon Daugherty reported zero.
McMillan’s entire $1,500 was an in-kind contribution for printing and postage from his longtime supporter Steve Hunley, the Republican power-broker and publisher of the Knoxville Focus.
There will be one more pre-primary financial report by candidates, due by Feb. 25 and covering the period from Jan. 16-Feb. 22.