Voting By Checkbook II

A look at some of Knoxville's biggest contributors

We have less than six months to go until the November elections, and Tennessee's August Congressional primaries are just around the corner. We're essentially down to two presidential candidates, or not. In any case, it's close, and the contribution dollars keep rolling in. In April, Barack Obama raised over $30 million, Hillary Clinton raised $25 million, and John McCain raised $18 million. The total for the three remaining presidential candidates is more than $576 million. And total Congressional contributions have now climbed to nearly $705 million.

Tennessee ranks 19th in campaign contributions overall—between North Carolina at 18th and Minnesota at 20th—with $18,084,741 so far.

Out of that, $2,877,028 has come from the Knoxville metropolitan area, the third-ranked metro area in both population and contributions in the state after Nashville ($8,129,919) and Memphis ($2,963,000).

Last time we checked in on Knoxville's notable campaign contributors, we looked at the city's first family, the Haslams. It seemed an obvious place to begin. The Haslams are Knoxville's most prolific givers, to this point in the 2008 election cycle donating nearly $345,000 to federal candidates and political action committees. And that's not counting donations from Haslam-owned Pilot Corp., which is, thus far, responsible for $184,400 in donations; or Pilot Travel Centers, now at $86,000.

But where's the rest of that money coming from?

Breaking the Numbers Down

Contributions from within Knox County itself made up $2,117,656 of the region's total. Of that, 83 percent, or about $1.5 million, has gone to Republican candidates, making it the most staunchly Republican of Tennessee's three large urban counties. That statistic is reflected somewhat—but not entirely—in the county's last two presidential election returns. In the 2004 election, 62 percent of Knox County voters cast their votes for George Bush, 57 percent in 2000, according to Tennessee Department of State election statistics.

Two of the top 10 Tennessee contributor zip codes are in Knoxville. Near West zip code 37919, which includes the wealthy Sequoyah Hills neighborhood, and Far West zip 37922, which borders Farragut, account for $1,126,132, or about 39 percent, of all area contributions. The next highest zip code is 37939 downtown, primarily used as a business address, with $194,313 in contributions. Of course, $184,000 of that comes from Bill, "Big" Jim, and Jimmy Haslam, as well as Volunteer Lumber VP Steve Bailey, Big Jim's son-in-law. Today, we'll cover some of Knoxville's most generous neighborhood.

Notable Contributors—37919

Though it has a population of just over 26,000, according to Census 2000 data, more than $791,000 in campaign contributions for the 2008 cycle are from this zip code, spread over 690 individual contributions. The 37919 zip code stretches from the western border of the Cumberland Strip to Kingston Hills. The area, while fairly economically diverse overall, includes some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in town.


Gregg Dunn

Dunn is the President of Regal Entertainment Group, the largest movie theater chain in Knoxville. He's also a Democrat, apparently, as his two contributions for this cycle are $2,300 to Sen. Hillary Clinton, and $1,000 to the Democratic Party of Tennessee.

Burton Jablin

Jablin is the executive vice president of (that's right) Scripps Networks, the cable TV arm of the Knoxville media overlord E.W. Scripps, which, incidentally, owns Metro Pulse as well. And it seems he's also in on the liberal media conspiracy, having donated $2,300 to Sen. Barack Obama and $250 to Sen. John Edwards during this campaign cycle.


Dr. C. Warren Neel

Former dean of the University of Tennessee's College of Business, Neel is now the head of UT's new Corporate Governance Center. He's also served as the head of the state department of finance under ex-Gov. Don Sundquist. And he's an old pal of Sen. Lamar Alexander, having worked for him when he was governor and during his tenure as U.S. Secretary of Education under President George "41" Bush. Not forgetting his friends, this year Neel's given Alexander $3,600 for his reelection campaign.


James Clayton Sr.

Among the top campaign contributors in this near west district is James L. Clayton Sr., founder of Maryville-based pre-fab housing company Clayton Homes. Clayton founded the company in 1966 and built it into the country's largest builder, seller, and mortgage lender for manufactured homes. In 2003, he sold the company to mildly eccentric multi-billionaire and philanthropist Warren Buffett—who recently overtook Bill Gates as the world's richest man—for $1.7 billion.

Total Contributions: $40,900

Presidential Race Contribution

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson—$2,300 on June 13, 2007

Congressional Contributions

National Republican Congressional Committee—$25,000 on June 11, 2007

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky—$4,600 on October 17, 2007

McConnell has received more money—$27,600—from mortgage bankers and brokers than any other member of Congress except Sen. Chris Dodd, who chairs the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. McConnell has also received $514,085 from the real estate industry during this election cycle.

Political Action Committee Donations

Volunteer PAC (Chaired by former Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist)—$5,000 on Jan. 18, 2007.

Manufactured Housing Institute PAC—$2,000 on Feb. 1, 2007; $2,000 on Feb. 15, 2008

The MHI PAC is the financial wing of the the Manufactured Housing Institute, a lobbying group for companies like Clayton. MHI is chaired by Clayton's son, Kevin, who is also president and CEO of Clayton Homes. In February, the group lobbied against a provision in the Senate's Foreclosure Prevention bill that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage debt for filers whose homes have lost market value. The bill was blocked by Senate Republicans in late February, weeks after Clayton's second donation to the PAC. A new version of the bill, without the mortgage adjustment provision, was later reintroduced and voted in by the House and is awaiting a Senate vote.

Robert Talbott

Talbott is the president of Knoxville-based real estate investment and brokerage firm Holrob Commercial Realty & Investments. Founded in 1997, the company owns or manages 89 commercial and residential properties—comprising over 20 million square feet—in and around Knoxville. Talbott, a member of the University of Tennessee's Board of Trustees, last month donated $1.1 million to UT to establish two new endowments in the College of Business Administration.

Total Contributions: $35,000

Presidential Race Contributions

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson—$2,300 on June 12, 2007

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney—$2,300 on Jan. 31, 2008

Republican National Committee—$10,000 on March 19, 2008

Congressional Contributions

Sen. Susan M. Collins, Republican of Maine—$1,000 on Feb. 14, 2008

Between Feb. 14 and Feb. 27, the day before Senate Republicans voted to block the Foreclosure Prevention Act, Collins, the junior senator from Maine, received 24 contributions from Tennessee donors, totaling more than $20,000. Most of the contributors are employed by developers, law firms, and insurance companies, including Pilot Travel Centers President James Haslam III. Most had never contributed to Collins before.

Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee (up for reelection in 2012) —$2,500 between Jan. 26, 2007 and June 23, 2007

Sen. Mitch McConnell—$3,600 between March 7, 2007 and Oct. 23, 2007

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama—$2,300 on April 9, 2007

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia—$4,600 on Oct. 19, 2007

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee—$600 on Nov. 15, 2007

Political Action Committee Contributions

Rock City PAC (Chaired by Bob Corker)—$5,000 on June 12, 2007.