Tennessee GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bill Lee raises $1.3 million at first major fundraiser

Tennessee GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bill Lee raises $1.3 million at first major fundraiser

June 7th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Breaking News

Bill Lee

Bill Lee

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Lee brought in $1.3 million Tuesday evening at his first major fundraiser Tuesday evening in his hometown of Franklin, the Williamson County businessman's campaign says.

Lee said in his news release that he was "humbled" by the show of support at the event, held at contemporary Christian music star Michael W. Smith's barn.

"I am delighted to see that Tennesseans are joining this effort to help ensure Tennesseans have a good job, great schools and safe neighborhoods," said Smith, who noted he continues traveling across the state to hit his target of visiting all 95 Tennessee counties in 95 days.

Lee's campaign finance chairman, Stuart McWhorter, called it "just the beginning of our efforts."

Tickets were $1,000 per person and $2,000 per couple.

Tuesday's event was the first major fundraising for Lee, who announced in late April he was running in the 2018 GOP primary to succeeded the term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam, also a Republican.

Lee is chairman of Lee Company, a family-owned construction, facilities and home services firm. His total reported take at the fundraiser slightly exceeds the $1.25 million raised by another GOP hopeful, Randy Boyd, a Knoxville businessman and former state economic and community development commissioner at his first major fundraiser back in April.

While both men are wealthy, Boyd raised eyebrows in political circles in March when he gave $5 million to the Knoxville Zoo.

A day after he announced his own candidacy, Lee, 57, who is also a millionaire, told reporters from seven news organizations attending his Nashville news conference that "we may not have as much pocket change as everybody, but we'll burn more shoe leather than anybody."

Asked by reporters how much money he would put into his bid, Lee said "I'm certainly going to put skin in the game. I certainly can't ask others to invest in our vision without me being willing to invest it in."

He declined to specify an amount.

Meanwhile, the Lee campaign this week announced that  Anna McDonald, a former finance director for the Tennessee Republican Party, has joined the campaign as its finance director for the campaign.

Another likely GOP entrant in the contest, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., along with her husband, David Black, are also millionaires.

Asked about the prospect of facing an array of at least partially self-funding GOP rivals, state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, told reporters last week after announcing her own bid for governor that "hopefully dollars can't elect candidates in Tennessee, hopefully people won't stand for that.

"We're going to be on the ground, we're going to be raising funds too, as much as we can, to get our message out," Beavers added. "We're going to hit the ground running. And I think people across Tennessee know who I am and what I stand for."