The big news in the most recent round of campaign financial disclosures for Knoxville mayor and City Council was at the top of the ticket, in the fund-raising battle between perceived front-runner Madeline Rogero and newcomer Mark Padgett, the money leader. But there were plenty of other points of interest, in their forms and those of the other candidates.
The Big Bucks
Of the five mayoral candidates, unknown newbie Bo Bennett posted the lowest fund-raising amount in the second quarter, logging a single donation of $23.87. That left him with $62.88 in cash on hand.
The other four, including late entrant Joe Hultquist, all logged at least $10,000. Probably not coincidentally, Hultquist’s total of $10,035 just squeaked him over the $10,000 qualifying limit to participate in a Chamber-sponsored debate on July 28. It will be broadcast live on WBIR-TV, from 8-9 p.m.
Hultquist reported 24 total contributions, with more than half of his total coming from six donations of $1,000 or more. One of the largest came from out of town—Robert S. Young Jr. of Los Angeles gave the former city councilman $1,400.
Ivan Harmon, the only Republican left in the race, continued to lag well behind Padgett and Rogero, reporting $20,700 raised for the quarter and cash on hand of $14,116. He had seven contributions of $1,000 or more, including one $1,000 donation from Scott Smith, one of the local developers who has led the charge against the proposed Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan.
Rogero, who has hundreds of contributions in the $100-$500 range, had just a dozen in the second quarter of $1,000 or more. One was from Rodney Lawler of the prominent local development powerhouse Lawler Wood. (Another $1,000 came from his wife, Dell.) Eddie Mannis, the owner of Prestige Cleaners, had been talked about for months as a possible mayoral candidate himself. But he’s now a Rogero supporter, contributing $1,250. Another Prestige executive, Tammy Parmentier, chipped in $1,000. Interestingly, construction company owner Jim McDonough is a top donor to Rogero—he’s given her a total of $2,800—and also Hultquist, to whom he gave $1,000.
Rogero also has four-figure contributions from commercial real-estate broker Maribel Koella, wife of the late state Sen. Carl Koella; and from the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades, AFL-CIO local 437.
Padgett, the overall fund-raising leader, is not surprisingly also the leader in bagging those big contributions. In the second quarter, he had $1,000-plus donations from some 70 individuals, businesses, and PACs. Besides the Haslam family contributions that made headlines last week, those include construction-machinery magnate Wes Stowers; developer Paul Murphy; contractor/developer Teddy Phillips Jr.; and Don Daugherty, the local Democratic Party renegade who ran an unsuccessful independent campaign last year against County Commissioner Amy Broyles. Also on the big-donor list: Thomas Boyd, bass player for local indie-pop outfit Oh No Fiasco, who contributed a total of $2,000. (His father, Pet-Safe entrepreneur Randy Boyd, is a Padgett supporter, along with several other members of the Boyd family.)
‘On Hand’ vs. Hands Off
One of the most interesting lines on campaign finance forms is the one that says “Balance on Hand.” It shows how much money candidates have left to spend between now and Election Day, and is arguably more important than the total they’ve raised. As of June 30, Padgett reported a two-to-one lead over Rogero in that category, $171,468.20 to Rogero’s $86,812. But that gap should be marked with a pretty big asterisk.
Candidates can raise money for both the primary and general election, with a $1,400 maximum contribution per donor for each. But they can’t spend any of the general-election money until after the primary, Sept. 27. And that’s if there is a general election—if any candidate for mayor gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, they win without having to go to the November ballot.
Anyway, Padgett has been racking up general-election contributions along with his primary money. Of his $271,769 total raised, $42,450 is designated for the general election. Only $7,600 of Rogero’s $160,411 total is general-election money. Once you subtract those amounts out of their cash-on-hand figures, Padgett has about $129,000 on hand for the primary, and Rogero has about $79,000—still a sizable edge, but a smaller one than it looks like on paper.
Out of the gate, all three races for at-large City Council seats look lopsided to varying degrees, at least as far as money goes.
Among the candidates for Seat A, West Knoxville Realtor George Wallace raised $14,600 in the second quarter, and spent $17,687, leaving him with $16,112 on hand. He has some deep pockets in his corner, including several members of the Haslam family, Denark Construction CEO Raja Jubran, and both Rodney Lawler of Lawler Wood and his son Jon, the recently departed head of the Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. Wallace also reports $2,500 from the Tennessee Realtors Political Action Committee. In contrast, Parkridge neighborhood activist John Stancil reports $2,699 on hand, and architectural designer Paul Berney just $351. Michael McBath, meanwhile, raised no money and has a campaign balance of zero dollars.
In Seat B, the early money leader is lawyer and downtown denizen Marshall Stair. His biggest donor is himself—he contributed $2,000 to his campaign—with his prominent parents, Dorothy and Caesar Stair, adding $1,400 each. Caesar’s law-firm partners Tom McAdams and Bernie Bernstein are also on board, adding $1,400 and $500 respectively, and family friend and former Mayor Victor Ashe gave $500, as did his wife, Joan. Marshall Stair reports a balance on hand of $12,721. Meanwhile, former state Sen. Bill Owen raised $6,900 in the second quarter, with a concluding balance of $3,226. Owen’s biggest supporters include Pat Wood of Lawler Wood, who gave $500, and Becky Clear and Melanie Deel of Lafollette, who gave $1,000 each. A third candidate for the seat, Buck Cochran of North Knoxville, reported a single gift of just $50.
And in Seat C, former County Commissioner Finbarr Saunders has a commanding fund-raising lead, reporting $5,385 raised in the quarter and $30,202 on hand. Like Wallace, he has received $1,000 from Raja Jubran. He also has support from Bob Talbott of development powerhouse Holrob (a $250 donation), and John Gill ($500), counsel to Attorney General Randy Nichols. Combined with money he had raised previously, plus cash left over from his failed bid for re-election to County Commission last year, Saunders reported $30,202 on hand. That is a lot more than Sharon Welch, a pastor at New Living Faith Community Church in Old North Knoxville. She reported $1,414 on hand. Welch’s largest contribution, $500, came from a grad student in Powell. (Interestingly, among her earliest donors was Hultquist, who gave her $50 in January.) Saunders has an even bigger edge on Ron Peabody, who reported raising $1,925 in the quarter but ended it with just $376 on hand. His biggest donor is Scott Smith (who also contributed heavily to Ivan Harmon), the anti-Hillside/Ridgetop Plan developer. He gave Peabody $1,000.
Much has been made, including by us, of Padgett’s successful wooing of the Haslam family. The former mayor and current governor’s siblings and assorted extended relations have pitched in several thousands of dollars. But that doesn’t mean the family business is united behind one candidate. Among the most prominent names on Rogero’s list is Mitch Steenrod, the CFO of Pilot Travel Centers, who gave her $500. Besides being a Haslam right-hand man, Steenrod is new chairman of the Knoxville Chamber—which somewhat complicates the easy narrative that the “business community” has a clear preference in the race.
Meanwhile, Harmon has a Pilot exec in his corner: Dan Fleming, the company’s vice-president of operations, donated $1,000. A cynic could suggest that the company is hedging its bets. A kinder reading would be that the Haslams have issued no Pilot-wide edict on the election.