U.S. House Speaker John Boehner helped U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann raise more than $200,000 Thursday evening, exceeding campaign expectations and eclipsing what Fleischmann collected between July and September.
"I'm very, very thankful," Fleischmann said after the event. "It was a tremendous outpouring of support."
A source close to the campaign confirmed the $200,000 figure, saying the final tally likely will fall between $215,000 and $225,000. In a previous interview, Fleischmann spokesman Jordan Powell said the campaign hoped to raise $125,000 at the two-hour event, which included talks from Boehner and Fleischmann, both Republicans.
All the money will go toward Fleischmann's re-election efforts, including consulting, direct mail, polling and radio and television advertisements in Knoxville and Chattanooga, the congressman said.
"Some folks I serve with have a four-media market," he said. "It's not uncommon for some of them sometimes to pay $1 million for media in a week."
Paul Smith, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said the fundraiser proves "big money is buying America today."
"Corporate America is now running America," he said.
Fleischmann's staff did not allow reporters into the Walden Club fundraising event, and Boehner declined an interview request through a spokesman. But Fleischmann and two donors described the scene after festivities ended at 8 p.m.
"When [Boehner] came in, people stood up, but he said, 'Please, I'm a common man in a big job,'" said accountant Tom DeCosimo. "Mainly he said the Congress has got to come together and move forward on a lot of tough issues."
The fundraiser concluded a busy month for Fleischmann. It came two weeks after the campaign said it raised more than $135,000 in the last quarter and four weeks after Weston Wamp, the 24-year-old son of one of Boehner's longtime colleagues, Zach Wamp, announced he'd challenge Fleischmann for his father's old seat next year.
"The speaker has an immense amount of respect for Zach -- he said that," Decosimo said. "But he said he was here to support Chuck."
About 125 people attended the dinner, including at least one elected official -- state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga.
The day included dissent. A few dozen protesters from Occupy Chattanooga stood near the Bank of America building throughout the day, holding posters bearing funny (Shave Off Your Apathy), political (Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out) and threatening (Beat Bankers Into Plowshares) messages.
Most drivers passed the protesters without a reaction, but Saturns and Lexuses alike honked in support every few minutes. Sometimes hand gestures emerged from the driver's side window.
Neither Boehner nor Fleischmann appeared near the protesters.
The campaign required invited couples to pay $1,000 at the door. An extra $1,500 bought a photo opportunity with Boehner, and $10,000 garnered admission, photos and seats near Fleischmann and the speaker. When a few donors stepped out of a car, Hixson resident Victoria Flores hoisted megaphone to mouth.
"I can't afford my politicians," she yelled across Chestnut Street. "Did you pay $1,000 or $10,000?"
Fleischmann said "some folks, like those folks, want solutions that I disagree with," adding that Boehner endorsed him because he believes in "private sector solutions."
"It's just that I come to the process with a different set of solutions than those who were protesting," Fleischmann said.