It’s Democratic National Convention week! The Tennessee Congressional Primaries are nearly a month past us! One more convention to go, and then no one has to pay attention again until November.
All of that, of course, means that we’re finally, officially into the general election stage. Which also, of course, means that this whole presidential campaign is actually sort of interesting again. Sort of. It also signifies that we’re overdue for another look into Knoxville’s most notable political patrons. In honor of this week’s convention, we’re going to examine some of this town’s major Democratic contributors.
First, though, let’s begin with the big picture.
With $23 million tallied so far, Tennessee is holding strong at number 19 in total contributions for federal campaigns. Of that number, nearly $3.5 million comes from the Knoxville metropolitan area, placing it not too far behind Memphis and its surrounding suburbs, with just over $4 million. Of course, the Nashville area, both the state capital and its most populous metro area, still ranks well ahead in political patronage, with more than $10.5 million in contributions thus far in the 2008 election cycle.
Nearly $2.7 million of contributions from the Knoxville metro area come from inside Knox County, and nearly all of that—about $2.6 million—comes from contributors inside the city of Knoxville itself.
The Quiet Party
Now, it should come as a surprise to no one that moneyed, politically active liberals are pretty outnumbered in this part of the world. Just look at our election returns. As we’ve pointed out before, 62 percent of Knox County voters voted for President Bush in the 2004 election, 57 percent in 2000. Here’s a more recent example, though: In the Aug. 7 primary, more than 26,500 people in the county pulled the lever for Sen. Lamar Alexander, an incumbent who was running unopposed, while only 13,000—less than half that number—voted for all six of the Democratic candidates combined, according to the Tennessee Division of Elections.
And that conservative bent is reflected in Knox residents’ contributions. As of the last tally, July 31, the county has contributed $2.69 million to federal candidates. Nearly $1.9 million—about 81 percent—of that has gone to Republicans. From the city of Knoxville, which accounts for nearly all of the county’s contributions, there have only been 728 Democratic donations, versus 1,256 Republican ones, in this campaign cycle.
There is some local money, though, lining Democratic candidates’ pockets. So where is it coming from, and to whom is it going?
Everybody’s Favorite Candidate
Perhaps the most popular candidate among Knoxvillians at both ends of the political spectrum is Heath Shuler, a Democrat from North Carolina’s 11th District, near Asheville. Shuler, who is pro-choice and an avid supporter of strict immigration controls, identifies himself as a moderate Democrat. He’s a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 49 conservative and moderate Democrats.
Shuler, a former player in the National Football League, and, more importantly, for the Vols, is well-supported by some of Tennessee’s biggest givers. He even received a $1,000 donation from James Haslam III.
More interestingly, though, is his largest benefactor, the Phillips family of Knoxville, all frequent contributors to the campaigns of Alexander, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Rep. Zach Wamp. They were also contributors to the presidential campaign of Fred Thompson.
William Ted Phillips is the CEO of Phillips & Jordan, Inc., which, so far in this election cycle, has given Shuler $19,350, making the company his biggest contributor.
P&J is most famous for a government contract it was awarded in 2005. Late that year, it was given $500 million by the Army Corps of Engineers to lead the cleanup of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The company was later cited by government inspectors for mismanagement for overcharging for their services by as much as four to six times what they paid for them, according to August 2006 media reports. In addition to the $19,350 from the company, Phillips himself has given Shuler $4,600 in this campaign cycle, as have his daughter, Lesa Phillips Whitson, and his son, William Ted Phillips Jr.
His wife, Avis, who runs Avisco, a construction company that specializes in excavation, landfill, and heavy civil construction, and which is currently involved in several construction projects with Y-12 through UT-Batelle, also contributed $4,600 to Shuler’s PAC, called the 3rd and Long PAC. 3rd and Long donates most of its money to Democrats in Congress and those seeking office, including fellow Blue Dog Rep. Lincoln Davis, a Democrat from Tennessee’s Fourth District.
A major university can nearly always be counted on to be a stalwart of liberalism, and the University of Tennessee is no exception, judging by its employees’ contributions. To this point in the 2008 campaign cycle, employees of the UT system, most of them from Knoxville and the surrounding areas, have contributed $77,005 to federal candidates and lobbying groups. And just over 55 percent of that—$42,505—has gone to Democratic candidates and party-affiliated groups. In addition to that, $9,205 in UT employee money has gone to independent Political Action Committees that give to both Democrats and Republicans, meaning that only $25,925—or about 32 percent of that money—has gone directly into Republican coffers.
UT’s Most Prolific Democrat
Dr. William Calhoun
Calhoun is a retired professor of psychology from the University of Tennessee. He lives in near-west zip code 37919, which still ranks the highest for political contributions of any of Knoxville’s neighborhoods, with just over $1 million logged up to this point in the 2008 elections. And, in that respect, Calhoun is fairly representative of his part of town. While he hasn’t donated the most of any UT affiliate, he has made over 20 itemized donations, more individual donations than anyone else, all to Democrats or organizations affiliated with Democrats. Here are just a few.
Total Contributions: $5,116
Presidential Race Contributions:
Bill Richardson—$500 on Sept. 14, 2007
John Edwards—$200 on Nov. 6, 2007; $250 on Dec. 24, 2007
Barack Obama—$358 on Dec. 21, 2007; $300 on May 29, 2007; $200 on Sept. 17, 2007; $250 on April 30, 2008; $250 on July 30, 2008
Congressional Race Donations:
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee--$250 on Feb. 14, 2007; $208 on Oct. 23, 2007
Al Franken—$200 on June 19, 2008
Emily’s List (An organization that donates money to pro-choice female candidates)—$500 on March 12, 2007; $250 on Sept. 9, 2007; $250 on Dec. 28, 2007
Other Notable Democrats
While Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale is under investigation for the misuse of his hospitality fund, the mostly Republican County Commission has brought in local lawyer Don Bosch to represent their side during the investigation. Bosch is head of the Bosch law firm. Bosch has made two donations to federal campaigns this election cycle: $500 to Rep. Lincoln Davis on May 8 and $500 to the Democratic Party of Tennessee on Feb. 29.
At 18 donations totalling $21,447 to Democratic candidates and affiliated PACs, Knoxville attorney Sid Gilreath comes out the biggest individual Democratic contributor in town. He has not, however, given any money to presidential nominee Barack Obama.
Presidential Race Contributions:
John Edwards—$2,300 on March 7, 2007; $2,300 on March 31, 2007
Hillary Clinton—$250 on July 20, 2007
The Democratic Party of Tennessee—$5,000 on February 28, 2007; $5,000 on March 4, 2007.
Congressional Race Contribution:
Mike Padgett—$1,000 on March 28, 2008
Sources: The Federal Election Commission, Center For Responsive Politics, The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, Fundrace 2008/HuffingtonPost.com.