Voting By Checkbook III

Another look at some of Knoxville's biggest political contributors

We're here again to examine some of the Knoxville area's biggest, and most interesting, political patrons. It's July, and the presidential primaries are definitely, finally over. The general race is in full swing. Again, finally. Next up, the state's Congressional Primary, at the beginning of August.

So let's update on some of our previous installments:

The State and the City

Tennessee continues to hold its rank at 19th in contributions to federal candidates, with $20,749,392. Of that, nearly $15 million, or about 72 percent, has thus far gone to Republican candidates. Just over $3.2 million came out of the pockets of residents of the Knoxville area, making it, once again, the third-ranked metro for campaign contributions in the state, behind Nashville ($9.6 million) and Memphis ($3.4 million).

Knox County accounts for the bulk of those area contributions, with just over $2.4 million. And once again, the vast majority of that, 80 percent or about $1.6 million, has been given to Republicans.

Haslam Check-In

Haslam-owned retail gas chain Pilot Corp. has nearly doubled its contributions since late May, from $184,000 to $332,000 so far in the 2008 election cycle. The company is the number two contributor in the state, behind FedEx, which is responsible for $1.1 million in contributions. The family itself, though, has donated $392,000 thus far, an upswing of $47,000.

Pilot Travel Centers president James Haslam III comes in as the most generous contributor of Knoxville's first family, with $86,900 in contributions over the course of the 2008 election cycle, though two gifts of $28,500 apiece made last year to the National Republican Senatorial Committee account for most of that.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a longtime Haslam family friend, is the number one beneficiary of its political patronage, having received $40,000 from Pilot and $23,000 from individual Haslam contributors.

One relatively new Haslam recipient is Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman. From March 18 to March 24, the family donated over $17,000 to the first-term Senator.

Coleman's been in the news quite a bit this year as he's in the midst of an increasingly bitter campaign against liberal comedian and author-turned-politician Al Franken. The primary focus of the debate has been U.S. energy policy in the face of rising gas prices. Coleman favors opening up strategic U.S. oil reserves in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for drilling, while Franken has proposed a plan to remove federal oil subsidies and, instead, invest that money in alternative energy development.

A poll late last month conducted by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that Coleman leads Franken in Minnesota 51 percent to 41 percent.

37922: Knoxville's Second Most Generous Neighborhood

Knoxville zip code 37919, home to Sequoyah Hills and many a Haslam, continues to account for the biggest contribution dollars in the area. Residents of that zip have now contributed more than $915,000 to candidate committees and PACs. In a distant second is far-west zip code 37922, with $380,966, spread out among 400 individual contributions as of the last tally.

Zip code 37922 is bound by Farragut to the west, Kingston Hills to the east, Louisville to the south, and I-40 to the north. According to Census 2000 data, the population of the area is just above 45,000. It's also fairly wealthy, with a median household income of $75,000.

Notable contributors in 37922:

ORNL Employees

Much of this zip code is just a few minutes' drive from Oak Ridge, and that being the case, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is well-represented on the contribution rolls. There are two common themes among the people working for Y-12 and UT Batelle here. There is a strong mix of contributions to both Zach Wamp, a 3rd District Republican, and Bart Gordon, a 6th District Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Science and Technology. A few employees even contributed to both.

Gordon and Wamp, along with Sen. Lamar Alexander, have both recently expressed worry about a plan proposed by Nevada-based company EnergySolutions to import foreign radioactive waste into its facilities and ORNL.

And guess who also made a major contribution from this neighborhood? The EnergySolutions executive VP of commercial facilities Michael Johnson. In September 2007, Johnson gave $5,000 to the company's political action committee, the EnergySolutions, Inc. Fund for Effective Government, a highly active lobbying group for the company, which during this cycle has given money away across the board: $15,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Fund, $5,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, and, of course, another $4,000 to Wamp and $5,000 to Alexander.

JoAnn Ross

Ross, while not a major contributor as compared to many of the people we've covered here before, is, at the very least, an interesting local character. A New York Times bestselling romance novelist, Ross has written nearly 100 books over 11 series since she began her career in the early 1980s. She released her last book Freefall in February and will be releasing another in September.

Ross has made only two relatively small donations this cycle: $250 to Sen. John Edwards' presidential campaign in January, 2007, and $200 to Barack Obama's last February.

Bill and Heidi Kouns

Combine a jewelry-unfriendly economic downturn with a couple of multi-million dollar lawsuits, and maybe Jewelry Television co-founder Bill Kouns and his wife Heidi should have done well to hold on to their money. But instead they donated $4,600 to the ultimately failed presidential campaign of former Tennessee Republican Senator Fred Thompson, and Bill fired more than 200 people.