Chuck Fleischmann leads quarter in fundraising

Chuck Fleischmann leads quarter in fundraising

July 17th, 2012 by Chris Carroll in News

From left, Weston Wamp, Scottie Mayfield, Chuck Fleischmann

Campaign fundraising

Photo by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

POLL: Who do you now support for Tennessee's 3rd district?

Three months ago, Scottie Mayfield announced his record-breaking political fundraising haul a week before anyone else, basking in front-page headlines and the unprecedented 3rd Congressional District glory of raising $450,000 in seven weeks.

The dairy executive assumed top-challenger status in the race's Republican primary, issuing a self-commissioned poll showing him in first place and a news release that said he raised "nearly twice as much as the incumbent," U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.

On Sunday, the Mayfield campaign took a different route, quietly submitting a much smaller quarterly haul -- $182,696 -- to the Federal Election Commission hours before the deadline to report contributions and expenditures for April, May and June.

The Mayfield campaign made no public announcement, but Fleischmann's team took care of that early Monday, blasting a press release that said the congressman raised $200,000 and had "over three times the amount of money that Scottie Mayfield" reported at quarter's end.

The difference in approach represents a shift in momentum and an incumbent's growing sense of confidence two weeks before the Aug. 2 primary.

After a fundraising period in which Mayfield experienced unwanted headline after headline, Fleischmann's team trumpeted that he had doubled and tripled the gaps between him and his most formidable opponents, reporting $730,538 in available campaign cash to Weston Wamp's $340,336 and Mayfield's $218,638.

The numbers are current through June 30, and most of the money is designated for use before the Aug. 2 primary, not the Nov. 6 general election.

"I am looking forward to the last three weeks of this campaign," Fleischmann said in his news release.

But Mayfield campaign consultant Tommy Hopper minimized his candidate's third-place cash-on-hand status, downplaying that Mayfield raised only 40 percent of the $450,648 he raised between January and March.

"Early money is always the easiest to raise," Hopper said. "It's the low-hanging fruit."

Wamp, the 25-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, found himself sandwiched between Fleischmann and Mayfield in available campaign cash, but he only raised $125,058 between April and June -- a $50,000 drop from last quarter.

Still, advisers described his second-quarter showing as right on schedule, noting his frugality -- he spent the least among the trio -- and the fact that he eclipsed Mayfield in leftover cash by $120,000.

"From a business perspective it has been refreshing how thrifty and smart Weston has been in managing the finances of his campaign," said Alexis Bogo, finance chairwoman for the Wamp campaign.

The six-figure totals can be interpreted several different ways, but one thing is certain: All three candidates have enough money to travel to events, advertise wherever they want and keep their campaigns alive in the dwindling days before the primary.

But Mayfield's fundraising dropoff had his opponents wondering if various recorded gaffes, a persistent reluctance to debate and his son's tire-slashing incident are signs of a campaign in peril. Mayfield also spent far more than his rivals between April and June, parting with $380,000 in campaign cash, records show.

Mayfield's struggles began in late April when a YouTube video showed him saying he must get elected to Congress before elaborating specific policy goals. Less than a week after that, his 33-year-old son was charged with vandalism under $500 for slashing a Fleischmann aide's tire. Throughout all that, Fleischmann, Wamp and others have criticized Mayfield for attending only one of at least four major debates.

Hopper shrugged off the financial concerns -- "we always expected to be outspent" -- and declined to discuss Mayfield's remaining campaign game plan.

"Stonewall Jackson said, 'Always mystify and mislead the enemy,'" Hopper said. "The ones who have the best chance of misleading opponents are those that don't say much."

Fleischmann again relied on political action committees to financially bludgeon his six opponents, reporting $71,474 in PAC contributions between April 1 and June 30. In his quest for a second term he's taken $462,349 from PACs that mostly are based in Washington, D.C., or the surrounding area.

Wamp in particular has criticized Fleischmann for taking PAC money, saying it's proof that it's taken less than a term for the freshman congressman to become entrenched in the "snake pit" of Washington. But Wamp has hedged and said he would take PAC money from organizations "whose principles and values are aligned with mine."

This quarter, the younger Wamp took $2,500 from a PAC representing U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas who served with the elder Wamp in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 to 2011. Earlier in his campaign, Wamp also took $5,000 from his father's still-active gubernatorial campaign committee and reported it as a PAC contribution.

Mayfield reported $6,500 in PAC contributions this quarter. While the supermarket chain Kroger donated $500 of that, the remainder came from a PAC representing Dean Foods, the conglomerate that bought Mayfield Dairy Farms in 1990.

Neither Fleischmann nor Wamp reported any self-financing this quarter, but Mayfield contributed $5,601 of his own money for "food and beverage" expenses. His campaign spent another $850 directly on Mayfield Dairy products for ice cream socials and other events.

Wamp has ruled out self-financing, but his Republican opponents haven't. Fleischmann donated more than $600,000 to his own campaign in 2010, and an adviser has said he may repeat it in 2012.

Hopper said Mayfield is considering the same thing.

"That's an ongoing decision," Hopper said. "It's been discussed, and if we conclude we need it, he might."

Other 3rd District hopefuls are operating in a different financial sphere. Republican Ron Bhalla reported $27,855 on hand, but owed a similar amount in debts and obligations. Democrat Bill Taylor ended the quarter with $1,418 on hand.

"We had some campaign contributions come in at the end of the quarter," Taylor said. "I've been told by a lot of people I've called that, when I get the nomination, they're going to write me a check."

Updated information for Democrat Mary Headrick and independent candidate Matthew Deniston was not available Monday.

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfree or 423-757-6610.