published Friday, March 16th, 2012

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann adds fundraising arm


by Chris Carroll
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.
Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

So far he’s got $620,000 saved to run for re-election and his finance chairman predicts “another very strong quarter,” but U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has set up a second fundraising committee anyway.

Two months after concluding the most successful fundraising quarter in Tennessee 3rd Congressional District history, Fleischmann — along with three other freshman House Republicans — formed the Majority Victory Fund on Feb. 29.

The move could give Fleischmann an extra edge against his two high-profile GOP challengers, Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp.

Fleischmann declined an interview request, and spokesman Alek Vey said the congressman’s office wouldn’t comment on the joint committee’s fundraising goals or targeted donors.

The committee’s other members are Reps. Mo Brooks of Alabama, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Raul Labrador of Idaho.

Joint fundraising committees are common — Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker participate in several — and experts said they allow groups of incumbents to benefit from their surroundings. Such committees often host fundraisers in Washington, and experts said special interest groups jump at the chance to get an audience with four congressmen for the price of one.

Wamp, the 24-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, recently attacked Fleischmann for taking “an astonishing 65.6 percent” of his re-election donations from individuals and political action committees outside the 3rd District. The younger Wamp also said Fleischmann closed a Feb. 9, 2010, campaign blog post with this: “Finally, I promise that special interest groups in Washington will not find an open door in my congressional office.”

Fleischmann aides responded that Weston Wamp was hypocritical for saying he wouldn’t refuse contributions from PACs whose “core principles I agree with.” To date, Wamp hasn’t reported any PAC donations, but he accepted $5,000 from his father’s gubernatorial campaign committee, which took money from PACs.

Federal law allows the Majority Victory Fund to collect donations and distribute them among any or all of its members at the committee’s discretion. But individuals or PACs that already have given the $5,000 maximum to Fleischmann’s main campaign committee cannot give him additional money via the Majority Victory Fund.

“This doesn’t provide a way to get around contribution limits,” said Paul S. Ryan, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C.

Ryan said the new fund could be geared toward cutting costs by splitting campaign expenses four ways.

“There’s that type of simple economic benefit to joining forces with other candidates,” he said.

Fleischmann’s principal campaign committee raised $321,230 between October and December 2011, a quarterly record for the 3rd Congressional District.

Tom Decosimo, the congressman’s finance chairman, said he was unaware of the new joint committee, but he added that money’s rolling in.

“We’re very encouraged,” he said. “We’re looking forward to another very strong quarter.”

Aides and experts have said it could take $1 million to win the GOP primary. According to the latest figures, Fleischmann has $620,000 to spend while Wamp has $285,000.

Figures for Fleischmann’s other GOP challengers — Ron Bhalla, Jean Howard-Hill and Mayfield — are expected to become public in April. Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor are competing for the nomination on the Democratic side. The primary is Aug. 2.

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