Candidates in the District 2 Hamilton County Board of Education contest are each on track to take in two and three times as much in campaign contributions for next month's election as the $12,208.71 the position pays annually, according to campaign finance disclosure statements.
The race already has become the most expensive campaign in local school board history, nearly doubling the more than $34,000 donated for the District 6 race in 2018 and the more than $33,000 for the District 4 race in 2016.
"Elections matter," said Tom Decosimo, in explaining why he and others formed the Good Government Coalition and Good Government PAC in January, and before he decided to become a candidate in the District 2 content, "and we found that out this past year" when a $34 million tax increase was suggested. "It matters who governs."
In 2020 second-quarter filings alone in the open race to represent the area of Signal Mountain and Red Bank, the Decosimo campaign collected $32,425 and the campaign of Marco Perez $24,478.
Most of the money, at least as far as can be detected from addresses listed on campaign finance disclosure forms, came from outside the candidates' district.
Decosimo appears to have collected $8,400 in his district, about 25.9% of his total, while Perez has reaped $4,300, about 17.6% of his total.
SCHOOL BOARD FUNDRAISING
› Rhonda Thurman — $10,475
› Stephen Vickers — $7,894
› Tom Decosimo — $32,425
› Marco Perez — $24,478
› Debbi Meyers — $12,457
› Joe Wingate — $3,975
Source: Hamilton County Election Commission financial disclosure forms; totals are through the second quarter
The top individual contributors for Decosimo are Glenn Morris and Suzanne Morris ($1,600) and Decosimo's fellow Good Government PAC founder Mike McGauley ($1,500). Other contributions of note came from BOW-PAC ($1,000), the political action committee begun by state Sen. Bo Watson; NOOGA-PAC ($2,000), the political action committee affiliated with U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga; The Baker Group ($1,000), a Nashville political strategies company; Doug and Sally Daugherty ($1,000 total), the former a co-founder of the public policy group Hamilton Flourishing; Jim and Pamela Fields ($433.50), the former a previous Hamilton County commissioner; and Jon Kinsey ($500), a former Chattanooga mayor.
The Decosimo campaign also shows a $1,000 contribution from the Committee to Elect [Chattanooga City Councilman] Jerry Mitchell and a refund of that contribution.
The top individual contributors for Perez are Stephen and Rebecca Marsh, Olan Mills II and Paul Neely ($1,500 apiece). Other contributions of note came from members of the Brock family ($1,600 total) and members of the Davenport family ($1,500 total), both multi-generational Chattanooga families, Chattanooga mayoral candidate Tim Kelly ($250) and former Chattanooga City Councilman Peter Murphy ($300).
Second-quarter reports also show the District 1 school board campaign collecting more than $18,000 for incumbent Rhonda Thurman and challenger Stephen Vickers and the District 7 campaign taking in more than $15,500 for incumbent Joe Wingate and challenger Debbi Meyers.
In the District 1 race, Thurman, in seeking her fifth term on the board, raised $10,475, including $5,000 from the Good Government PAC, $1,000 from Hamilton Flourishing's Daugherty and his wife, and $500 from District 9 County Commissioner Chester Bankston.
Vickers took in $7,894, including $1,500 from prolific Democratic funder Olan Mills II. He also got a $500 contribution from developer Bassam Issa, which came days after a school board meeting last month in which Thurman suggested Issa's partial ownership of the Sears property at Northgate Mall that the district is interested in may have come "from other sources from outside our country."
Issa denied the charge and said all of the money he and his partner have in the project is local money.
In the District 7 race, Wingate, seeking his second term, has raised $3,975, including $300 from District 1 County Commissioner Randy Fairbanks and $500 from the Tennessee Realtors PAC. Meyers, meanwhile, raised $11,760, but $8,100 of that came from the Good Government PAC. She also picked up $250 from the Committee to Elect [County Commissioner] Tim Boyd.
The $91,704 already contributed to this year's three competitive races is more than the $87,343 that was spent during the entirety of the five competitive races in 2018 and will likely top the $95,856 spent on the entirety of the four races in 2016.
Contributions to the Decosimo campaign already have topped those of the top fundraiser in each of the last two school board elections, Jenny Hill ($30,523.34) in 2018, and Tiffanie Robinson ($27,407.83), who is running unopposed for a second term this year, in 2016.
Of course, taking in the most money is not always a guarantee of success. In 2018, District 5 challenger Ann Pierre outraised her opponent, incumbent Karitsa Mosley, by a factor of more than 6 to 1, but lost, and in 2016 District 1 challenger Dr. Patti Skates outraised Thurman by more than 2 to 1 but also lost.
Ten years ago, in 2010, the four competitive school board races saw only $58,537 raised, about the same that has been raised in District 2 so far and more than 35% less than has been raised in all of this year's races.
So, while it may matter who governs, several of this year's candidates want to be sure they're in the monetary position to be the "who" that matters.