U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Weston Wamp show fundraising muscle

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Weston Wamp show fundraising muscle

January 29th, 2012 by Chris Carroll in News

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.

Photo by Alex Washburn /Times Free Press.

Weston Wamp Contributed photo

Weston Wamp Contributed photo

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Weston Wamp began his congressional campaign by raising more money than his father ever raised during a three-month period.

But his opponent, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, still has double the younger Wamp's war chest for the race to come.

Both men raised similar amounts between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, the period spanning last year's final fundraising quarter. During that time, Fleischmann collected $321,230, and Wamp raked in $307,646, according to aides for both men.

John Geer, chairman of the political science department at Vanderbilt University, said the overall figures favor Fleischmann, but he considers Wamp "in the ballgame" because $300,000 and "the Wamp name" are formidable.

"He'll have an uphill battle, but not an impossible one," Geer said. "This is the kind of money he should be able to raise."

Wamp is the 24-year-old son of eight-term GOP congressman Zach Wamp, who decided to run for Tennessee governor rather than return to Congress. The younger Wamp surprised 3rd Congressional District observers in October when he said he would challenge Fleischmann, a freshman Republican and his father's immediate successor.

The GOP primary election is set for Aug. 2.

Fleischmann has been raising money as an incumbent since last January, so the gap between their war chests widens when the rest of last year is included. After expenses, Fleischmann said he has $617,323 for the rest of the campaign, more than doubling Wamp's in-the-bank total of $285,141. It was Fleischmann's most successful quarter yet.

"We figured the fundraising would take care of itself, and it's more than done that," Fleischmann said Friday.

Wamp and his aides stressed that quarterly head-to-head statistics were more significant than cash-on-hand totals since the Wamp campaign is only three months old.

"I would never have expected back in October when I announced that we would end up raising over $300,000 in three months," Wamp said Friday. "When you're a young person, it's humbling and incredibly encouraging to see people invest in your campaign."

Aides for both men disclosed their fourth-quarter amounts to the Chattanooga Times Free Press two days before campaign finance disclosures are due. The disclosures will show who's donating to the candidates and where it's coming from.

Wamp said his disclosure would be available online today and criticized Fleischmann for releasing "selective numbers" to hide outside-the-district, corporate donors.

Fleischmann said "there's no political rhyme or reason" for withholding the full report until Tuesday.

"Our treasurer handles that, and the [deadline] is Tuesday," he said.

Neither Fleischmann nor Wamp gave their own money to their campaigns last quarter, records show. Fleischmann donated more than $600,000 of his own money when he won the seat in 2010. He did not rule out similar self-funding before the primary.

Fleischmann and Wamp both benefited from connections to big names. For Fleischmann, the help came from industry-backed political action committees, better known as PACs, and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Three weeks after Wamp announced, Fleischmann said he swept up $200,000 from a downtown Chattanooga fundraiser that featured Boehner as keynote speaker.

Fleischmann's campaign declined to say how much PAC money it received between October and December, saying reporters could dig it up this week.


Amount raised from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31

Fleischmann: $321,230

Wamp: $307,646

Total cash on hand

Fleischmann: $617,323

Wamp: $285,141

Sources: Chuck Fleischmann for Congress; Weston Wamp for Congress

Records current through Sept. 30 show more than 35 percent of Fleischmann's donations came from PACs, including some representing coal and chemical companies.

"They support me because of my work ethic, my voting record and because I'm pro-business," Fleischmann said.

Wamp said he received no money from PACs and took Fleischmann to task for doing so.

"This is a guy who ran on an anti-Washington platform, and he's already playing the same old Washington game," Wamp said.

Wamp's Washington connection is in his family ties. He said he raised $250,000 at his campaign kickoff fundraiser in December. A Times Free Press analysis found that, out of the fundraiser's 75-member host committee, 52 donated to his father's gubernatorial campaign, congressional campaigns or both.

Wamp said the focus should be on the 23 "new donors."

"Inevitably many of my donors moving forward will be people who gave to my father because he was strongly supported by the business community for almost 20 years," he said. "I never ran into one person who gave me money because my dad is Zach Wamp. ... I reject the notion that people gave to me because of who my father was."

Glenn Morris Jr., president and CEO of Chattanooga-based M&M Industries, pledged $2,500 to Weston Wamp. In December, he told the Times Free Press, "I have enormous respect for Zach Wamp, and that's why I'm doing it," noting the "apple didn't fall far from the tree."

Both men now have the resources to send mailers, buy radio and television ads and run full-fledged campaigns. The 3rd District has newly redrawn borders -- districts are redrawn every 10 years based on population figures from the U.S. census -- and now includes parts or all of six new counties closer to Knoxville than Chattanooga, doubling the media markets and making big money even more important than it was.

"The price of playing poker has increased," Vanderbilt's Geer said.

Whether others can get into the game is another question.

Two other GOP candidates, Ron Bhalla and Jean Howard-Hill, have not met the $5,000 threshold in which they must register with the Federal Election Commission and report contributions and expenses.

POLL: Which candidate do you support for the 3rd Congressional District?

Meanwhile, Dr. Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor, two Democrats fighting for the chance to square off against the eventual GOP nominee, have not disclosed formally their finance figures.

Taylor originally aimed to raise $250,000 before the end of January but said he hopes to have $100,000 soon. Headrick estimated a $5,000 war chest.

Geer said "the general election's not where the action is."

Acting on that thought, Fleischmann's campaign said more than 95 percent of his cash is primary money. All but $7,000 of Weston Wamp's money is for the primary, his campaign said.

Tom Decosimo, a former Zach Wamp donor recently named as the Fleischmann campaign's unpaid finance chairman, said Fleischmann's fundraising efforts have been "relatively unorganized" to this point. He said it's his job to set up a network and "get influential people throughout the district" to give to Fleischmann.

For Wamp's part, he said he would continue to solicit donations from businesspeople of all ages. His campaign is in the "earliest stages" of planning an end-of-the-quarter fundraiser for his 25th birthday, he said, which falls on March 26.

Scottie Mayfield, the well-known dairy mogul who said he's considering a GOP primary run, said he would look at the fundraising reports as he decides whether to challenge Fleischmann.