Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger has the deepest pockets among candidates seeking election or re-election in Hamilton County in the May 1 primary or the Aug. 2 general election, according to first-quarter 2018 campaign disclosure forms.
He has deep, deep pockets.
Coppinger, at the end of the first quarter, had $213,006.96 to spend. And since he has no primary opponent, he can save most of it.
He was the county's second best fundraiser during the quarter, collecting $22,850. Most of that came from Realtors, builders, contractors and architects, but he also had his share of bankers, doctors and health care executives. He also had the quarter's largest contribution, $5,000 from Chatt-PAC (Home Builders Association of Greater Chattanooga), and its largest expenditure, $30,224.50 to Kaegi Resources of Nashville for financial consulting.
The candidate with the next largest sum on hand — less than one-third of Coppinger's — is Sheriff Jim Hammond with $65,861.60. Like Coppinger, he has no primary opponent but still managed to be the county's top fundraiser for the quarter with $27,220.98.
Another deep-pocketed candidate is state Rep. Marc Gravitt, who is seeking the open register of deeds post. Although he cannot raise money during the Tennessee legislative session, he had $61,815 on hand, part of which included the transfer last September of $58,532.05 from his state representative campaign account.
His Republican primary opponent, Randy Johnston, had $2,948.13 on hand and had raised $6,500 in the first quarter. The primary winner's Democratic opponent in August, Vickie Schroyer, did not receive any contributions in the quarter and had $320 on hand.
Among Hamilton County Commission candidates, incumbents rule — at least with deep war chests.
District 7 Commissioner Sabrena Smedley, who is unopposed in the primary and general election, had the most on hand with $38,334.83, followed by District 1 Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, who has a primary opponent who has signed a form declaring he will not spend more than $1,000 campaigning, with $27,965.94, and District 2 candidate Chip Baker with $22,432.41.
Chip Baker's general election opponent, Elizabeth Baker (no relation), had a little bit more than a tenth ($2,434) of what he had on hand.
All other sitting commissioners who have primary or general election opponents, Greg Martin in District 3, Warren Mackey in District 4, Greg Beck in District 5, Joe Graham in District 6 and Tim Boyd in District 8, had more money on hand than their challengers.
Among commission candidates, the top fundraisers for the quarter were Beck, ($17,300), Boyd ($15,603.60) and Chip Baker ($13,439.70 in a district where no incumbent is running).
The top collectors among challengers of incumbents were David Sharpe in District 6 ($7,770), Katherlyn Geter in District 5 ($6,886) and Brent Lambert in District 8 ($3,575.20).
The biggest spenders of the commission candidates were Boyd ($25,213.29), Fairbanks ($18,029.74), and Beck ($12,021.10).
Various elected officials were active contributors this quarter, including U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann ($200 to Fairbanks and $200 to Bankston); Circuit Court Judge Kyle Hedrick ($239.70 to Chip Baker, $200 to Martin, $200 to Smedley and $200 to Hammond); state Sen. Todd Gardenhire ($250 to Fairbanks); Hamilton County Assessor Marty Haynes ($150 to Fairbanks); Chattanooga City Judge Russell Bean ($100 to Chip Baker and $100 to Hammond); state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood ($100 to Chip Baker); Hammond ($100 to Chip Baker, $100 to Beck, and $100 to both Hedrick and his primary opponent, Catherine "Cate" White); Circuit Court Clerk Larry Henry ($200 to Chip Baker and $200 to Hammond); District 9 Hamilton County Board of Education member Dr. Steve Highlander ($100 to Smedley); Bankston ($100 to Hedrick and $100 to Highlander); state Rep. Gerald McCormick ($1,000 to Coppinger through his political action committee); and state Sen. Bo Watson ($1,000 to Martin through his political action committee).
Former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey, meanwhile, contributed $500 to Martin, $1,000 to Beck and $1,500 to Lambert.
Other notable contributions during the quarter included $4,000 to Beck from Chatt-PAC, $1,500 to both Mackey and Beck from Lakewood Ranch Risk Management of Roswell, Ga. (tying for their largest donations), $500 to Geter from Women for Tennessee's Future of Nashville (her largest donation), a combined $2,396.57 (in-kind) to Geter and Lambert from the UnifiEd Action political action committee, and $1,900 to his own campaign by sheriff challenger Victor Miller, making a total of $4,600 he's put in during his bid.
Reflect for a moment about the amounts cited above, and realize that some of these candidates will raise money for the better of two more quarters. If you support a candidate with your dollars, consider whether you believe the money will (or should) influence the candidate in any way, whether your money will be used wisely and what other candidates the candidate you support might use your money to support in turn. Choose carefully.