published Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Weston Wamp spar over PAC funds


by Chris Carroll

Forty percent of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's total re-election contributions of more than $700,000 came from political action committees, a fact one of his primary opponents pounced upon Wednesday.

"You have to question who Fleischmann's allegiances are with, based on him taking all this PAC money," said Weston Wamp, 24, the son of former congressman Zach Wamp.

But Fleischmann's campaign called a $5,000 gift Weston Wamp received from leftover funds in his father's 2010 gubernatorial campaign a PAC donation itself -- the $4 million the elder Wamp raised included $62,510 from more than a dozen PACs across the country.

Fleischmann was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Chip Saltsman, Fleischmann's chief of staff, said the younger Wamp's criticism showed hypocrisy and said "he should probably return" his father's $5,000 contribution.

"He attacks us on PAC money -- he's got PAC money," Saltsman said. "If we say, 'It's a pretty day in Chattanooga,' he's going to say, 'No, it's not.' We're going to see this, which is very sad, for the next couple months. It'll be him just constantly attacking Chuck for everything."

Year-end financial reports for both candidates became public Tuesday. Last year's fourth and final quarter spanned between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.

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  • photo
    Weston Wamp talks to the Hamilton Place Rotary Club on Wednesday.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
    enlarge photo

In a news release announcing his fourth-quarter fundraising, Wamp slammed Fleischmann for relying "heavily on special interest PAC money and contributions from Washington."

Wamp was right. Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, Fleischmann collected $138,000 in donations from industry-backed political action committees, many based in Washington, D.C., or nearby cities in Maryland and Virginia, campaign disclosures show.

Since his November 2010 election, 40 percent of Fleischmann's overall re-election war chest -- $310,374 out of $771,119 -- has come from PACs, including some representing the coal industry, chemical companies and ExxonMobil, records show.

Wamp's news release said he himself "received no Washington special interest PAC money." Records show $302,646 of Wamp's $307,646 came from individual contributions, many from within Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District.

The remaining $5,000 came from his father's campaign leftovers.

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Weston Wamp said "there's no strings attached" to money from "PACs that may or may not have given to [the elder Wamp's] campaign two years ago."

State records show the elder Wamp's gubernatorial campaign accepted $7,500 in contributions from USEC Inc., a Bethesda, Md.-based company that calls itself "the leading world supplier of nuclear fuel and advanced technology solutions." Bethesda is eight miles northwest of Washington.

"Me taking a $5,000 contribution from my dad's gubernatorial committee -- I don't think that raises the question in voters' minds of 'Who are his allegiances with?'" Wamp said.

Zach Wamp also gave a $2,500 individual contribution to his son. The former congressman listed his employer as Zach Wamp Consulting, which does business in Chattanooga and Washington.

Weston Wamp said he wouldn't turn down PAC contributions whose "core principles I agree with." He pointed out that Fleischmann originally campaigned as a conservative who would shut out special interests.

The written record supports Wamp. Nine months before he was elected, Fleischmann closed a Feb. 9, 2010, blog post by saying: "Finally, I promise that special interest groups in Washington will not find an open door in my congressional office. ... I will always fight for conservative policies that help everyday Americans -- not politicos, party bosses and special interest groups in Washington."

Asked to square that rhetoric with reality -- two out of every five dollars Fleischmann raises come from PACs -- Saltsman said the congressman "meant individuals will be first in line" ahead of political action committees and other groups.

"We meet with all groups -- individuals and groups -- to discuss issues and legislation," Saltsman said.

Two other GOP candidates, Ron Bhalla and Jean Howard-Hill, have not met the $5,000 fundraising threshold requiring them to register with the Federal Election Commission and report contributions and expenses. Figures for Democrats Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor were unavailable Wednesday.

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