published Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Companies and PACs send $2.9 million to Tennessee lawmakers' campaigns

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, of Chattanooga, right, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, of Nashville, are among the top five recipients of PAC funding in the Tennessee General Assembly for the current election season.
Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, of Chattanooga, right, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, of Nashville, are among the top five recipients of PAC funding in the Tennessee General Assembly for the current election season.
Photo by Tracey Trumbull /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TOP PACS

The top 5 political action committees and rankings for local PACs that gave directly to Tennessee lawmakers and legislative candidates between Jan. 16, 2011, and Jan. 15, 2012.*

1) Federal Express PAC: $101,582

2) AT&T Tennessee PAC: $93,100

3) Wine & Spirits Wholesalers PAC: $78,100

4) Independent Medicine's PAC TN (physicians): $66,850

5) Tennessee Parents/Teachers Putting Students First: $65,400

LOCAL PACS

JMS PAC (Check Into Cash founder Allan Jones/Cleveland): $36,000

BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee (Chattanooga): $20,750

Unum PAC (Chattanooga): $6,700

Miller & Martin law firm/lobby (Chattanooga): $6,050

Tennessee Valley Water Alliance (Tennessee American Water Co. and American Water): $4,900

Cigna Corp. PAC (Chattanooga): $4,450

* Source: Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. Excludes contributions to leadership PACs.


TOP PAC RECIPIENTS

Here are the top five recipients of PAC funding along with rankings for Southeast Tennessee legislators.*

1) Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin: $88,242

2) Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville: $80,650

3) House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville: $79,484

4) Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville: $66,400

5) House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga: $65,100

24) House Judiciary Committee Chairman Eric Watson, R-Cleveland: $36,575

31) Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga: $30,800

32) Senate Speaker Pro Tem Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga: $28,880

38) House Government Operations Committee Chairman Jim Cobb, R-Spring City: $25,050

39) Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville: $24,750

48) Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere: $20,650

64) Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap: $15,050

72) Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge: $13,550

94) Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga: $9,000

133) Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga: $2,350

134) Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga: $2,350

* Source: Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. Rankings affected by contributions to legislative candidates currently not in Legislature.

NASHVILLE -- Dozens of special interests ranging from AT&T to Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee have given $2.93 million so far to the campaigns of Tennessee lawmakers and legislative candidates during the 2012 election cycle, state filings show.

A political action committee operated by Memphis-based FedEx Corp. topped the list, according to figures from the state's Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

The shipping and logistics giant's PAC gave $101,582 to dozens of lawmakers and candidates between Jan. 16, 2011, and Jan. 15, 2012, an analysis of direct contributions reported by lawmakers and candidates shows.

Government contractors, businesses regulated by the General Assembly and other interests, including organized labor, were among those giving through traditional PACs.

And joining the ranks for the first time are corporations, which can give under a 2011 law passed by the Republican-led General Assembly. In 2010, the GOP boosted its Senate majority and gained operational control of the House.

The analysis of giving to the 33 senators and 99 representatives shows Republicans as major beneficiaries of PACs and corporations.

The 20 top recipients of special interest contributions were Republican leaders and, quite often, powerful GOP Senate and House committee chairmen. The analysis excludes contributions to leadership PACs operated by top leaders, which raked in considerable contributions as well.

The No. 1 recipient in personal contributions was Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, with $88,242, the data show.

The top Democrat was House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, of Ripley, whose $37,900 earned him the No. 21 slot.

"In a lot of these cases the money follows those who have the power," said Tennessee Common Cause Chairman Dick Williams, who argues that the public and not private interests should fund the bulk of campaign costs. "People who contribute always want to have the ear of those in power."

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who ranked No. 4 in special interest contributions to personal campaign accounts, said the money "just shows people agree with us that Republicans are taking the state in the right direction."

"It's not like the misconception that you're buying a vote," Ramsey said. "It's just that you're trying to keep like-minded people elected."

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, was at No. 5 with $65,100.

McCormick said he has "never had a lobbyist ask me to do anything that was tied to a donation. I assume that's illegal. It's never happened to me, and I've never felt I was under undue pressure."

The list of more than 250 donors shows several corporations making direct contributions or putting corporate money into PACs, allowable under the new law.

Cable giant Comcast gave $31,450 directly to lawmakers and candidates, while its PAC gave $14,750.

Government contractor Corrections Corporation of America, which operates two state prisons and accepts state felons at a third facility, gave lawmakers $13,750 in direct contributions and $4,250 from its PAC.

Communications titan AT&T's PAC came in a close second to FedEx in overall lawmaker contributions, with $93,100.

In third place is the powerful Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee's PAC, which has so far put a cork on grocery stores' efforts to gain legislative approval to sell wine.

That PAC gave $78,100 to legislative campaigns. Filings show Athens Distributing Co. outlets in Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis collectively gave $25,000 directly to the PAC. The rest came from other distributors owners or executives.

The wholesalers' legendary lobbyist, Tom "Golden Goose" Hensley, didn't want to discuss the trade group's contributions last week.

"I can't answer that damned question," Henley said in a brief interview at Legislative Plaza. "I'm not going to answer it. No comment."

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee gave $20,250 to lawmakers through its PAC.

The insurer provides coverage to businesses and individuals and is a major player in the state's TennCare and other state health programs.

"The PAC supports our lobbying efforts, which are devoted to maintaining the affordability of health care for our members as well as the quality of that care," BlueCross spokeswoman Mary Danielson said in an email.

OTHER GIVERS

Other local companies and interests joined in giving as well.

Check Into Cash founder Allan Jones' JMS PAC gave $36,000 to individual lawmakers' campaigns. JMS stands for Jones Management Services.

It gave $10,000 to Ramsey's leadership PAC and $2,000 to Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell's leadership PAC.

Spokesman Jabo Covert said the company has a range of interests and Jones has always been interested in politics. He said his boss' current passion is doing away with Tennessee's motorcycle helmet requirements.

"That's just participating in the process, which we do all over," Covert said of the contributions.

Tennessee American Water Co., which operates in Chattanooga, gave $4,900 through a new PAC called the Tennessee Valley Water Alliance, records show.

The water company fueled its PAC with $21,550 in contributions. Of that, $20,000 came from Tennessee American's parent company, American Water.

A PAC operated by insurer UnumHealth, which has extensive operations in Chattanooga, gave $6,700, while another PAC belonging to insurer Cigna Corp. contributed $4,450.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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