Election 2020: Fund Race

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Election 2020: Fund Race

Who’s funding whom in the Aug. 6 county and state elections? We take a look and find a lot of familiar names.

by jesse fox mayshark • July 22, 2020


Photo by Ervins Strauhmanis/Creative Commons 2.0

By the standards of national or statewide politics, campaign finance reports for local races look like pretty small potatoes.

Haslams, homebuilders, teachers, Realtors and activists put their money where their hopes are.

In a County Commission race, it’s unusual to break the $30,000 mark, with some candidates registering much less. Even state legislative races typically run in the tens rather than hundred of thousands. 

But the donor details are still revealing in many ways, often highlighting political schisms — particularly in party primaries — and sometimes indicating how seriously a candidate is taking her or his challenger. They can also say a lot about which races are of particular importance to local power brokers and industry groups

A review of the most recent disclosures for candidates in the upcoming Aug. 6 election shows many familiar names and entities weighing in, from members of the prominent Haslam family to real estate political action committees and organized labor.

You can find all campaign finance forms for Knox County office candidates on the website of the county Election Commission. Legislative candidate information is searchable in the state’s Online Campaign Finance Database.

Here’s a quick overview of contested races in the Knox County general election and state legislative primaries.

Knox County Offices

Republican candidates have outraised Democratic and independent candidates for the Knox County offices on the August ballot. That’s not a surprise, given the party’s dominance countywide and networks of established donors.

In the three County Commission races with Republican and Democratic candidates, the GOP has the financial edge in each. (It is also of course worth remembering that the best-funded candidates do not always win.)

North Knoxville’s 2nd District Commission election pits Republican Grant Rosenberg against Democrat Courtney Durrett for an open seat — incumbent Michele Carringer opted not to run for re-election so she could pursue the state House 16th District seat being vacated by Rep. Bill Dunn.

Rosenberg raised $24,900 in the second quarter, ending June 30, and spent $14,615.70, leaving him with $18,372.05 on hand as of July 1. His donor list is packed with Republican heavy hitters, including Jim Haslam II, his son Jimmy, and his son-in-law Steve Bailey, along with Sam Furrow, Sharon Pryse and former County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, Rosenberg’s former boss.

He also has support from North Knoxville stalwart and former City Council member Larry Cox, along with former Council member and mayoral candidate (and district resident) Marshall Stair, as well as beloved former WBIR anchorman Bill Williams. Also on his donor list is the Building Industry Political Action Committee, which represents local homebuilders.

Durrett, meanwhile, raised $4,600.36 in the second quarter, spent $2,301.56, and ended June with $6,546.13 on hand. Her donors include two well-known local Democrats, former County Executive Tommy Schumpert (Ragsdale’s predecessor) and former County Commissioner Mark Harmon, a previous occupant of the 2nd District seat. She also has the support of longtime Fountain City neighborhood activist Jamie Rowe.

In the 4th District, another open seat, Republican Kyle Ward racked up impressive fundraising numbers for the March 3 primary but appears to have cooled off a little ahead of the general election — possibly reflecting a view that the West Knox district is safely Republican. He raised $8,614.40 in the second quarter, spent $1,960.46, and ended with $6,680.16 on hand.

Ward’s donors include Ragsdale and his consulting business partner Mike Arms; developers Scott Davis and Oliver Smith IV; businessman and state legislative candidate Eddie Mannis; and the PACs of the Building Industry and Tennessee Realtors, along with the libertarian-leaning Knox Liberty Organization (which among other things is campaigning against Mannis in his race as being too liberal).

All of that puts Ward well ahead of his Democratic challenger, Todd Frommeyer, who has said from the start that he intended to self-finance his campaign and has kept his word. He reported donating $2,000 to his effort, spending $1,824.24, and ending the quarter with $419.31 on hand.

And in the 5th District, both incumbent Commissioner John Schoonmaker, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger Kimberly Peterson are running relatively low-budget campaigns. Schoonmaker, who won the March 3 primary despite being significantly outraised and outspent by challenger Clayton Wood, reported raising just $250 in the second quarter and spending zero, leaving him with $4,413.40 on hand.

Peterson raised $2,197.91 and spent just $76.61, leaving her with $3,665.72. Her donors include the political action arm of the Knox County Education Association, which contributed $500.

Three major-party candidates running against independent candidates don’t appear to be taking their challengers too seriously. 

In the 1st Commission District, Democratic candidate Dasha Lundy, who defeated incumbent Evelyn Gill in the March primary, faces independent candidate Reginald Jackson. Lundy raised $702.95 in the second quarter, spent $272.68, and had $4,524.76 on hand heading into July. Jackson had not filed a second quarter report as of yesterday, but he reported raising and spending no money during the first quarter.

Public Defender Eric Lutton, a Republican, reported only a self-endorsed loan of $6,000 for the quarter and spent nothing, leaving him with a balance of $9,019.27. (He has loaned his campaign a total of $41,000 over the course of the year, most of it during the Republican primary.)

Lutton’s independent challenger, Sherif Guindi, reported raising $5,400 during the quarter and spending $24,257.55, leaving him with $4,282.14 on hand. His most prominent donor is former Judge Gary Wade, dean of the School of Law at Lincoln Memorial University. Guindi has loaned himself $10,000 during the campaign.

And in the Knox County law director’s race, Republican candidate David Buuck raised $3,100 and ended with $9,370.79 on hand. He reported spending just 60 cents in the quarter, which was actually an adjustment to an earlier finance report. The independent candidate in the race, Jackson Fenner, raised $2,775, spent $1,368.43 and had $1,406.57 on hand.

State Legislature

In the Democratic primary for the state Senate’s 6th District seat, candidate Jane George reported raising $5,932, spending $3,716, and ending with $2,216 on hand. Her opponent, Sam Brown, does not have any reports currently listed on the state’s campaign finance website.

Whichever of them wins the primary will face a well-funded incumbent in state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, whose war chest shows the advantage of having been part of a legislative majority for nearly a decade. Massey reported raising just $1,500 in the quarter, all of it from the Tennessee Realtors PAC, and spending $11,389.93. But because of her accumulated contributions from past years, she ended June with a whopping $391,761.06 on hand.

State House District 15 has a lively three-way contest in the Democratic primary, pitting incumbent Rep. Rick Staples against former County Commissioner Sam McKenzie and progressive newcomer Matthew Park.

Staples, whose campaign finances have been the subject of legal and media scrutiny this year, reported a relatively quiet fundraising quarter, logging just $3,297.22, most of it from political action committees, including those of the Tennessee Bankers Association and Tennessee Realtors. He spent $4,177.22 and had $7,318 on hand.

He was outraised by both of his opponents. McKenzie reported contributions of $9,950 plus a $2,000 loan to himself. He spent $5,413.54 and had $6,536.46 on hand. His donors include former Knoxville Vice Mayor Finbarr Saunders and former County Commissioner Tank Strickland, as well as his brothers Reggie and Raleigh McKenzie, both former University of Tennessee and pro football players. 

Park raised $10,958.21 from a long list of mostly small donors, many of them active in progressive causes in Knoxville. He lent his campaign an additional $8,000. He spent $15,999.40 and reported $5,763.71 on hand.

The Republican primary for the 16th House District seat has two current officeholders facing off — County Commissioner Michele Carringer and school board member Patti Bounds. Although many observers expect the race to be close on election day, Carringer ended June with a sizable fundraising edge.

Carringer reported raising $14,500 in the quarter, spent $6,903.95, and had $24,034.88 on hand. Her donor list includes several members of the extended Haslam family — Natalie Haslam, David Colquitt, Steve Bailey — along with developers Scott Davis and Tim Graham, and state Rep. Martin Daniel.

Bounds, a former teacher and outspoken critic of some of Gov. Bill Lee’s education policies, raised $9,933.82, spent $9,632.50, and had $9,580.23 on hand. Her supporters include county Law Director Bud Armstrong, state Sen. Richard Briggs, KnoxTNToday publisher Sandra Clark and Bounds’ former school board colleague Amber Rountree. She also reported an in-kind contribution of $6,229.85 from the Tennessee Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education, the political action committee of the state teachers’ organization.

Either Bounds or Carringer will face Democrat Elizabeth Rowland in the November general election, who reported some healthy fundraising numbers of her own: $24,406 in the second quarter, of which she spent $12,219.82 and had $12,186.18 on hand. Rowland’s donors include former County Commissioner Mark Harmon and real estate developer Doug Horne.

And the West Knoxville 18th House District Republican primary shows something of an old-fashioned split between establishment Republicans — the fabled “silk stocking” crowd — and politically active developers and county GOP regulars.

Businessman Eddie Mannis, who ran unsuccessfully for Knoxville mayor last year, is the establishment favorite. He reported raising $35,996.52, spent $14,178.82, and had $21,817.70 on hand. His donors include Jim and Natalie Haslam, former Gov. Bill Haslam and his wife, Crissy, Pete Claussen, Kevin Clayton, Raja Jubran, Wes Stowers and Joan Ashe, wife of former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe.

His opponent, Gina Oster, raised $20,040 (including a loan to herself of $1,120.35), spent $4,229.65, and had $16,930.70 on hand. Donors include developers Scott Davis and Tim Graham and the political action committees of the Tennessee Firearms Association and the Tennessee Realtors. Rep. Martin Daniel, the 18th District incumbent who is stepping down this year, is also backing Oster.

As in the 16th District, the Republican nominee will face a serious Democratic challenger. Attorney Virginia Couch, who works for The Trust Co., raised $33,987.23 in the second quarter. She spent $12,445.51 and had $28,101.94 on hand. Her supporters include former County Commissioner Mark Harmon, the International Association of Heat & Frost Insulators (which contributed $5,000), and Couch’s well-connected boss Sharon Pryse — usually a Republican donor.