Andy Ogles

NASHVILLE - An influential conservative auto dealer announced today he is creating a "Super PAC" to "focus" on electing Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Andy Ogles for the seat now held by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

In a news release issued by the Ogles campaign for the independent Super PAC, Lee Beaman of Nashville said his plan is to raise $4 million to "ensure" what he called "dependable conservative Senate representation for Tennessee."

"Tennessee is a deeply red state and we should have Senators who not only reflect the conservative values of our state but who will aggressively fight for them on the floor of the Senate," Beaman said in a statement.

He said Tennessee needs a senator "who will fight to secure our border, strengthen our national security capabilities, repeal and replace the failed Obamacare plan, and cut the taxes and regulations that are preventing businesses from putting America back to work and putting more money into the paychecks of their employees."

Ogles last week stepped down as director of Americans for Prosperity's Tennessee chapter to launch his bid for the Senate seat. The AFP national and multi-state network is backed by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The release for the Super PAC, an independent expenditure group that can accept and spend unlimited contributions from donors to back candidates, came not from the Super PAC but from Ogles' campaign itself. 

According to the Federal Election Commission's website, Super PACs are not allowed to use funds they raise to make contributions, whether direct, in-kind or via coordinated communications, to federal candidates or committees. 

But in actual practice, the lines sometimes blur.

Ogles' campaign did not respond to a reporter's inquiries as to why the candidate's organization put out the news release instead of Beaman.

Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, has yet to declare whether he will run for a third term. 

Ogles and Beaman were spotted together last month during Tennessee Republicans' annual fundraiser. A few weeks earlier, The Washington Examiner reported that an unnamed GOP insider said that "if a really strong conservative candidate challenges Bob Corker, Lee Beaman would on jump on board with his campaign." 

Asked by a Times Free Press reporter at the GOP fundraiser what his gripe was with Corker, Beaman noted that he had not made the reported comment himself. Asked if that meant he would back Corker, Beaman said, "I'm staying out of this."

In his news release, Beaman said "there are donors who are already anxious to get involved in this race, and our plan is to raise and spend $4 million over the next 13 months to provide President Trump with an ally in the U.S. Senate that he will be able to depend upon."

Corker and Trump recently had a public exchange after the senator criticized the president's initial equivocal statements about a deadly protest in Charlottesville, Va., where a woman was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into counter protestors. Corker and Trump met at the White House last week and the senator said their relationship remains good. 

As a major donor to political campaigns, Beaman has been an influential and sometimes feared force with regard to both Republicans and Democrats in the Tennessee General Assembly.

But Beaman's record of backing winning GOP federal candidates here in Tennessee has been decidedly mixed.

For example, in the three-man 2006 GOP U.S. Senate primary won by Corker, Beaman contributed $10,500 to Van Hilleary's campaign, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Beaman also wound up giving Corker $2,100 in 2006, then contributed $4,000 to Corker's 2012 campaign. He supported Weston Wamp of Chattanooga in his unsuccessful GOP primary challenge of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District.

The auto dealer is a supporter of U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. He also has contributed to U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. But last year Beaman contributed to Black's unsuccessful GOP primary challenger, Joe Carr, and also backed Carr financially in the former state lawmaker's 2014 GOP primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

In 2016, Beaman took a campaign leadership position in efforts by GOP hopeful Grant Starrett's unsuccessful effort to beat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., in the fourth Congressional District GOP primary.