High court takes up donation limit

High court takes up donation limit

October 8th, 2013 by Tim Omarzu in Local - Breaking News

Olan Mills

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

BIG DONORS

Tennessee donors near the threshold:

• Andrea Carlton, Nashville, real estate developer

• Willis Johnson, founder and CEO of Copart, an online auctioneer of salvaged automobiles, and his wife Reba, Franklin, Tenn.

• Blair Wilson, Nashville, investor

• Fred Tillman, Germantown, Tenn., retired owner of several McDonald's restaurant franchises

• Randy Boyd, founder and CEO of Knoxville-based Radio Systems Corp.

• Olan Mills Jr., of Chattanooga, whose father founded a chain of Chattanooga-based photography studios.

• William Allan Jones III, Cleveland, chairman and CEO of Jones Management Services Inc., a diversified group of businesses that includes Check into Cash Inc.

• James A. Haslam III, CEO of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain and co-owner of the Cleveland Browns football team

• Kent Davis, a retired engineer from Franklin

• Mike Curb, Nashville, record company executive and former Republican lieutenant governor of California

• William Freeman, Nashville, real estate investor and former treasurer of the Tennessee Democratic Party

• David Black, Gallatin, president and CEO of Aegis Sciences Corp., a full-service forensic sciences company that was founded as a sports anti-doping laboratory at Vanderbilt University

• Lee Beaman, a Nashville auto dealer

• Joey A. Jacobs, Brentwood, CEO of Acadia Healthcare treatment facilities

• James Haslam II, founder of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain

Georgia donors near the threshold:

• Diane W. Parker, Thomasville

• Robert Weiner, Atlanta

• Jay Davis, Atlanta, executive

• Douglas Hertz, Atlanta

• Richard D. Gaby, Duluth

• Barbara VanAndel-Gaby, Duluth, trustee of The Heritage Foundation

• Chantal Bagwell, Cumming

• Thomas N. Bagwell, Cumming

• Frank Hanna, Summerville

• Bernard Marcus, Atlanta

Source: Public Campaign

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case today that could result in the elimination of the $123,200 limit on individual donations to federal elections during the current two-year campaign cycle.

Only about 1,200 donors nationwide come near the current cap, including one Chattanoogan - Olan Mills Jr., who mainly backed Democrats the last time around, but also gave a total of $3,500 to Republicans Bob Corker and Scottie Mayfield. Mills didn't respond to requests for an interview Monday.

Two members of one of Tennessee's richest families made the list of biggest donors: James "Jim" Haslam II, founder of the privately held Pilot Flying J truck stop chain, and his son James "Jimmy" Haslam III, who is Pilot J's CEO and co-owner of the Cleveland Browns football team. James Haslam II is the father of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Jimmy is the governor's brother.

Today's case was brought to the court by Shaun McCutcheon, 46, a Republican activist and president of an electrical engineering business who lives in Hoover, Ala., just outside Birmingham.

McCutcheon doesn't have a problem with base limits that prevent him from donating more than $5,200 every two years directly to a federal candidate, $5,000 per political action committee and $32,400 per national political party.

He opposes the "aggregate cap" that limits the total amount donated every two years to $123,000.

"Why should it matter if I'm involved in 17, 18 or 33 races?" McCutcheon asked USA Today, saying the aggregate cap "limits your right to free speech and assembly."

Siding with McCutcheon is the Republican National Committee. The court also has granted a request by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., an opponent of all limits on campaign contributions, to have his views on the case presented during oral arguments.

That $123,200 cap is twice what the average American family earns, according to Public Campaign, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization that describes itself as nonpartisan and "dedicated to sweeping campaign reform that aims to dramatically reduce the role of big special interest money in American politics." It's one of a number of campaign finance watchdog groups that hope the justices will side with the Federal Election Commission against McCutcheon.

"If the court throws out these super limits, our elections will be like eBay for millionaires and billionaires, with policy going to the highest bidder," Public Campaign President and CEO Nick Nyhart said.

Public Campaign published a study, "Country Club Politics," that found that those giving to the limit included three of the richest five Americans: Larry Ellison of Oracle and Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries. Sixty-nine billionaires - one out of six - donated up to the limit, the report states, and their donations totaled more than $150 million, with 56 percent going to Republicans and 41 percent to Democrats, with the remainder going to third-party candidates or PACs.

"If the Supreme Court accepts Sen. McConnell's argument and does away with contribution limits altogether, these 69 billionaires alone could match the entire $6.3 billion spent in the 2012 elections by tapping less than 1.5 percent of their net worth," Public Campaign's report states.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.