Haslam's campaign spent $16.7 million

photo Gov. Bill Haslam speaks to reporters Wednesday in Nashville about spending $16.7 million in his successful bid for governor last year. The Republican said he hasn't yet decided whether he will raise money to repay $3.5 million in loans he made to his campaign. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE -- Republican Gov. Bill Haslam spent $16.7 million during his successful GOP primary and general election, easily outdistancing Democrat Mike McWherter who spent just $3.4 million, according to latest campaign financial disclosures.

The combined $20.1 million in expenditures makes the 2010 contest the most expensive contest for governor in Tennessee history. The previous record-holder, according to Times Free Press accounts in 2003, was the $18.99 million spent by Democrat Phil Bredesen and Republican Van Hilleary in their 2002 race, which Bredesen won.

But Haslam's and McWherter's spending remains dwarfed by the 2006 U.S. Senate race in which Republican Bob Corker, of Chattanooga, who won, and Democrat Harold Ford Jr. collectively spent $34.1 million in an epic battle that drew national attention.

Corker still holds the crown in terms of overall spending over Haslam, shelling out $18.6 million in contributions and personal funds for his bid.

In Haslam's case, $3.49 million of the new governor's expenditures came out of his own pocket, according to his fourth quarter report, filed Wednesday with the state's Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. McWherter spent $1.55 million in personal funds, including $45,000 after the election to help close out his campaign account.

"We all along said we would run a campaign to win, and I think we did that and got our message out," Haslam told reporters after addressing a conference on higher education. "I don't have any regrets about the approach we took to the campaign at all."

Hey big spender: Here are Tennessee's most expensive political campaigns:*2010 Governor's race -- $20.1 million* Republican Bill Haslam -- $16.7 million* Democrat Mike McWherter -- $3.4 million2006 U.S. Senate race -- $34.1 million* Republican Bob Corker -- $18.6 million* Democrat Harold Ford Jr. -- $15.5 million2002 Governor's race -- $18.99Democrat Phil Bredesen -- $11.22 millionRepublican Van Hilleary -- $7.77 million* Sources: State and federal campaign disclosures, Times Free Press news accounts

Haslam, a multimillionaire, said he hasn't decided whether he will raise money from supporters to pay himself back.

"I actually don't have a plan yet around paying that debt back to me," Haslam said. "At some point in time we'll sit down, once kind of all the dust clears from everything. We'll decide whether we start paying ourselves back or if we'll just leave that debt. I honestly haven't decided yet."

In the report, which covers the period from Oct. 24 to Jan. 15, Haslam disclosed an ending balance of $636,685.81.

Haslam handily defeated McWherter on Nov. 2 but had a tougher Aug. 5 primary fight against then-U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, the state Senate speaker.

Haslam spent an estimated $724,000 during the quarter, which included the last 10 days of the campaign. McWherter spent $336,000 in the same period and loaned his campaign a final $45,000 after the election, ending up with a $2,000 cash balance compared to nearly $637,000 for Haslam.

Figures show that Haslam spent about $13.32 for each vote he received in the GOP primary and the fall general election. McWherter got the better deal, about $4.17 per vote. But then again, he lost.

Meanwhile, Wamp's final disclosure for the GOP primary showed he had an ending balance of $116,532.60. His campaign paid off a $400,000 loan from First Tennessee and a $25,000 loan he personally made, according to the disclosure.

The money appeared to have come from contributions that were designated for the general election.

Wamp could not spend the money for his primary race while the race was ongoing. But state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance Executive Director Drew Rawlins said Wednesday it was legal to pay off debts after the Aug. 5 primary ended.

"Once that election is over, those funds become what the law says are excess campaign funds," Rawlins explained. "You can use them to pay off loans."

Efforts to contact Wamp treasurer Dan Johnson were unsuccessful.

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