Governor hopeful ropes in $1.3 million at Franklin, Tenn. fundraiser

Governor hopeful ropes in $1.3 million at Franklin, Tenn. fundraiser

June 8th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News
Bill Lee is running for Governor of Tennessee.

Bill Lee is running for Governor of Tennessee.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

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

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 Lee, 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 succeed 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.

The Lee Company employs some 1,150 people and has annual revenue of $225 million.

Boyd founded and owns Knoxville-based Radio Systems Corp., which produces more than 4,600 pet products under brand names such as Invisible Fence and PetSafe. It employs more than 700 workers and has annual revenues of $400 million.

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, 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 in it."

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.

Another likely GOP entrant in the contest, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., also is a millionaire.

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."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.