The Fundraising Races


The Fundraising Races

With less than two months to go before the city primary, some candidates are flush with cash while others have only just begun to raise money.

by scott barker • July 12, 2023
Creative Commons 2.0 photo.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated with the correct amount Councilwoman Lynne Fugate paid to her campaign manager, Emily Morgan.

In Knoxville city politics, dollars don’t always equal votes. But they don’t exactly harm a campaign either.

Incumbent Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon has a commanding lead over her three challengers in fundraising.

At this point in the 2019 election cycle, former Councilman Marshall Stair had nearly $250,000 on hand to spend in the final weeks of the primary campaign for Knoxville mayor. That was roughly equal to the combined amount raised by the two other strongest candidates for the open seat — Indya Kincannon had $90,364 and Eddie Mannis had amassed nearly $162,000 by the end of June that year.

Stair came in third in the primary, however, and Kincannon overcame her deficit in dollars to win in the general election.

That wasn’t a fluke. Amelia Parker had less than $1,000 in her campaign account at this point in 2019, far behind Amy Midis ($25,056) and Bob Thomas ($6,754) in the race for At-Large Seat C on City Council. She came in first in the primary and edged Midis in the general election.

In some cases, though, fundraising prowess can signal success at the ballot box. Council members Janet Testerman and Lynne Fugate both raised more money than their opponents in 2019, and emerged victorious in both the primary and general elections.

This year’s election has a different dynamic. Of the six races on the ballot in 2019, only one featured an incumbent, Municipal Judge John Rosson, who was unopposed. Five of the six races on this year’s ballot will have incumbents, one of whom, 5th District Councilman Charles Thomas, is unopposed. Incumbents generally have an advantage raising money, but that’s not always the case.

Candidates in this year’s city primary were required to file their 2nd quarter financial disclosure reports with the Knox County Election Commission this week. With nearly two months before primary Election Day, there is plenty of time for candidates to make a late fundraising push, but here’s a look at the numbers, the donors and the expenditures in contested races as of June 30.  


Kincannon is flexing the financial muscles of an incumbent. She had raised nearly $158,000 at the end of the 1st quarter and added $48,538 during the next three months. After spending more than $33,000, she has $152,833 on hand — exponentially more than her three challengers combined.

Support for the incumbent comes from across the city and its political spectrum. Notable donors during the 2nd quarter included philanthropists Ann and Steve Bailey, attorneys Warren Gooch and Sid Gilreath, businessman Bill Wiegel, real estate agent Kim Trent, Scenic Knoxville President Joyce Feld, former Poet Laureate Marilyn Kallet, former Planning Commission Chair Janice Tocher, real estate executive Maribel Koella, former Councilman Duane Grieve, and Planning Commissioner Karyn Adams. East Tennessee Realtors donated $5,000.

Kincannon’s significant expenditures included $11,900 to Change Research, a progressive polling firm, and $10,075 to Standing Tall Strategies, which is owned by Sara Fischer and is managing her campaign.

Mortgage lender Jeff Talman has raised $9,500 so far, and has spent or incurred bills in excess of $13,800. He has $5,768 in cash. 

Talman has relied on a small number of large donors to date, including former Councilman George Wallace, developer Scott Davis, businessman Joe Hollingsworth, and former Councilman Joe Hultquist. He has engaged Red State Solutions, an Alabama-based Republican consulting firm, to help with the campaign. 

Constance Every, a police reform advocate who frequently speaks out during public forum at City Council meetings and ran for governor last year, is running on a shoestring budget. She only has $163 in her account.

As of Tuesday, one day after the deadline, businessman R.C. Lawhorn had not filed his disclosure statement with the Election Commission.

City Council At-Large Seat A

Fugate, the At-Large Seat A incumbent, faces challenges from Realtor and former Knox County Democratic Party Chair Cameron Brooks and newcomer Darin Worsham. 

Fugate ended the 1st quarter with $28,605 in her account and added $24,459 during the following three months. She has $48,026 on hand.

Notable donors to her campaign during the past three months included developer Buzz Goss, Wiegel, former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, attorney Mark Mamantov, business owners Wes Stowers and Bert Bertelkamp, executive Kevin Clayton, Sports Authority Chair Alvin Nance, developer Tim Graham, and former Councilwoman Marilyn Roddy.

Fugate paid her campaign manager, Emily Morgan, $663.

Brooks had not filed his disclosure report as of the end of the day on Tuesday, but when the 2nd quarter began, he had $36,494 in his account. His fundraising total includes a loan of $11,600. He posted on Facebook that his treasurer has been out of town and the report should be filed today.

Worsham reported that he did not raise or spend any money.

City Council At-Large Seat B

Testerman opted not to seek reelection this year, leaving At-Large Seat B as the only race without an incumbent. Former union president Debbie Helsley is running against builder R. Bentley Marlow.

Helsley started the quarter with a big fundraising edge — $22,028 to $0. She added $7,375 to her total and spent a similar amount, leaving her with $21,730 entering July. 

The bulk of Helsley’s donations have come in small increments — $5-$100 — from people in a variety of jobs, from baristas to architects to accountants. The single largest donation came from wetland ecologist Kim Pilarski-Hall, who gave $500. Other donors included attorney Virginia Couch, Election Commissioner Julie Gautreau and former Knox County Commissioner Mark Harmon. Kincannon has not formally endorsed a candidate in the race, but she gave Helsley’s campaign $100. 

Organizations donating to Helsley’s effort were the Communications Workers of America (she is a former president of the union local) and Tennessee Voter Project, a Democratic political action committee.

Marlow has worked to make up ground by raising $14,390, including a $6,500 loan to his campaign. He has $7,942 as a base for the final push to primary Election Day.

Marlow has received donations from Council members Testerman and Seema Singh, former Councilman Mark Campen, and real estate professionals George Wallace, a former Council member; Scott Davis; and Garrett Holt, who lost a Council bid two years ago.

Details of Marlow’s expenditures were not included in the report posted to the Election Commission’s website.

City Council At-Large Seat C

In 2019, Parker punched above her fundraising weight and she will need to do so again to retain her Council seat. Developer and Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission Chair Tim Hill holds a commanding lead in fundraising, and she also trails Matthew Best, executive director of the Change Center.

As of the end of the business day on Tuesday, Parker had not filed her disclosure form with the Election Commission. In an online posting, she said she had to rework her report because of a change in the law regarding the reporting of donations smaller than $100 and would file it soon. According to Parker’s post, she raised $13,766 during the quarter and has $6,464 on hand.

Best raised $12,575 during the 2nd quarter and has $8,453 on hand. His donors during the most recent cycle included former school board candidate Annabel Henley, hospital executive Patrick Birmingham, Sports Authority Chair Alvin Nance, and several University of Tennessee professors, among them Kristina Gehrman, Charles Maland, George Dodds and Beau Gailor.

Best’s campaign has cut checks to ActBlue, an online fundraising firm that works with Democratic candidates, the Tennessee Democratic Party, and his campaign manager, Alexa Worley, in addition to routine expenses.

Best is an example of a candidate making a later push for campaign cash. An upcoming fundraising event has some heavyweight names, including former Mayor Madeline Rogero, civil rights icon Rev. Harold Middlebrook, and school board member Rev. John Butler.

Hill has been a fundraising juggernaut. At the beginning of the quarter, he had $151,959 in his account — more even than Kincannon — and added $32,225 to the total. He has $129,722 on hand, more than all other Council candidates combined.

Notable donors for the April-June reporting period included attorney Morris Kizer, former school board member Doug Harris, printing business owner Peter Ullrich, former city Public Service Director and Development Director Bob Whestel, and developers Scott Davis and John Turley. The Tennessee Realtors PAC gave Hill $7,500.

Hill’s significant expenditures include $10,000 to Korda Communications, owned by George Korda, for consulting; $5,385 to Pavlis Public Strategies, the firm owned by his campaign manager, former Councilman Nick Pavlis; and $14,222 to Ullrich Printing. Hill is also able to pay campaign workers to do canvassing on his behalf.  

Municipal Judge

Municipal judge is the only elected office in the city that isn’t subject to term limits, and long-time incumbent Judge John Rosson Jr. is facing his first campaign challenge since 2003.

Rosson started out with $10,651 in his account and raised $18,968 during the 2nd quarter, including a $7,500 loan he made to the campaign. After expenses, he has $16,912 on hand. 

Dr. Bill Yoemans, former Mayor Randy Tyree, Knox County Commissioner Larsen Jay, longtime juvenile detention center superintendent Richard Bean, businessman Sam Furrow, and attorney Jeff Hagood are notable donors to Rosson’s campaign.

Challenger Tyler Caviness outraised Rosson in the quarter ending June 30, though, taking in $21,331. He has $15,679 in his account leading into the race’s final weeks. Key contributors include attorneys Greg Isaacs, Scott Carpenter, Marcos Garza and Jackson Fenner, who ran for district attorney general last year; former Knox County Commissioner Mark Harmon; school board member Katherine Bike; and Denark Construction CEO Raja Jurbran.

Another challenger, Mary Ward, raised $4,093 during the past three months and has $2,182 left after expenses. Attorneys John Haupt and Sherry Mahar, and landscaper Kristin Van Winkle are among her contributors.

Andrew Beamer took in $2,570 during the quarter and had held onto $2,449 of the total. Beamer’s donors include attorneys James Corcoran, Gina Jenkins, Kelly Wojciechowski, and Renee Stewart.