published Friday, April 11th, 2014

Few in Hamilton County file campaign finance reports

Fewer than half of the candidates running for state and local offices in Hamilton County met Thursday's deadline for filing first-quarter campaign funding reports. But those who did show they've amassed more than $900,000 combined to get elected.

State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, has spent $2,000 more than he's raised so far this year, but he still has more cash on hand than any candidate who reported by the deadline.

Watson hasn't raised a dime in 2014, but he brought $268,179 over from a previous election war chest. That's a comfy number, especially since Watson faces no opposition in the Aug. 7 state primary or the November election.

The biggest fundraiser so far isn't a state candidate; it's Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger. Coppinger carried over $52,360 from previous races, but his $134,015 fundraising effort is more than three times greater than the No. 2 local race. In fact, it's closer in number to statewide races.

As of Thursday, he was the second-best-funded candidate reporting. Coppinger faces Republican Basil Marceaux in the primary. Marceaux did not file by the deadline. Independent candidate Richard Ford will face the winner of the primary. Ford reported a zero balance in the first quarter.

J.B. Bennett, who is running for Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Division 1, has the third-biggest pot. He started out the year with $109,122 and has raised $15,810. After spending he's got $63,735.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, has the fourth-place spot. He has $60,933 on hand after gathering $112,125 and spending $52,000. He is unopposed for the District 26 House seat.

MONEY MOMENTUM

Coppinger and McCormick are first and second in pure fundraising since January 1. But Chancery Court judge candidate Pam Fleenor is third, with $32,764. She brought $39,508 to the field, raised another $36,295 and spent $43,039.

Fourth in fundraising is Tommy Crangle, the retired architect seeking to fill Rep. Richard Floyd's District 27 seat. Floyd is not seeking re-election.

Crangle started with a goose egg, but he's picked up $29,250 since January. Crangle is facing three other Republicans in the May 6 primary -- Charlie White, Tom McCullough and Patsy Hazlewood. None filed campaign finance reports by the deadline. Whoever wins the primary will face Democrat Eric McRoy in August. McRoy has $544, after raising $1,400 and spending $855.

Candidates are allowed to accept up to $1,500 per individual donor per election, according to Drew Rawlins, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. That includes private residents, other candidates and limited liability companies. Corporations can give candidates up to $7,400 per election as political action committees, Rawlins said.

FEW REPORTS

Rawlins said the Hamilton County numbers could be small because some local, part-time positions are exempt from reporting.

If a part-time post pays less than $1,000 a month and the candidates don't spend more than $1,000 getting elected, they don't need to report, Rawlins said.

Local candidates who don't have May primaries -- such as school board and Sessions Court judge candidates -- don't have to file a first-quarter report if they didn't have a campaign treasurer before April 1, he said.

But for local candidates who have primaries, there's no exemption, Rawlins said.

"Those involved in a May 6 primary would be required to file a first-quarter report -- this included independent candidates that will only be on the Aug. 7 general ballot but are running for a position that is having a primary election," Rawlins said.

Hamilton County Election Commission staff member Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said the commission works with candidates who are running late.

"If they can get it in Monday, there wouldn't be any fines or anything. After 60 days, though, the fines start and that's when the state gets involved," she said.

IN THE REGION

First-quarter reports in the House District 22 race between Republicans Dan Howell and J. Adam Lowe show fairly close totals, but Lowe has spent more early and Howell has almost twice as much money in his war chest going forward.

Lowe, a businessman and Bradley County commissioner, reported a beginning balance of $9,123.38. He took in $3,025 in contributions and spent $4,326.98, leaving a balance of $7,821.40. He reported no loans or in-kind contributions.

Howell, longtime assistant to Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis, reported a beginning balance of $11,121.43 and $3,720 in contributions. He also has loaned his campaign $3,900. He spent $1,464 and ended the period with a $14,777.43 balance.

Lowe did not respond to a voicemail message seeking comment Thursday.

Howell said his fundraising wasn't where he had hoped, but thinks the hot sheriff and district attorney races are soaking up money ahead of the May county primary.

"I expect after the May primary it'll open up a little bit," he said.

Howell said people in the district are as concerned with the big picture, including Second Amendment rights and social issues,as pocketbook issues and education, including Common Core standards.

"People do vote their pocketbooks, but also are concerned about the social issues we're facing right now," he said.

Steve Crump continues his commanding fundraising lead over Stephen Hatchett in the Republican primary for the 10th Judicial District Attorney race, which covers Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.

Hatchett, who was chief assistant in the office until leaving to campaign, entered the quarter with a balance of $3,424.01 and raised $1,400 plus $100 in in-kind contributions. He spent $1,662.86 and ended with a balance of $3,161.15.

Hatchett said he's not seeking contributions to his campaign because people in the district need to spend their money elsewhere. He said he is asking people to donate instead to the Children's Advocacy Center.

"The better indicator of this race is the fact that [Crump] has outspent me at roughly five to one and yet a drive through the district shows my signs in actual homeowners' yards at about five to one," Hatchett said in a statement.

Crump started with a balance of $21,943.58 and raised $13,160 in the quarter, plus in-kind contributions of $4,160. His contributors included DA office employees such as prosecutor Richard Fisher and investigator Calvin Rockholt as well as business and professional people in the district and Polk County General Sessions Judge Billy Baliles.

He spent $21,477.97 and ended with a balance of $13,625.61.

"I am extremely pleased and humbled at the financial support we've received from all over the district," Crump said. "It's a tangible demonstration that people see me as the candidate who can change the system and they believe in my prescription for change."

County-level financial reports for sheriffs and county mayors in the 10th District were not available Thursday.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6416.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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