Jones, Sexton hold $1M+ in cash, Save Nashville donors, plus more notes from campaign filings – Tennessee Lookout

Heading into the 2024 state election season, only two lawmakers hold over $1 million combined in their campaign and PAC accounts. 

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, leads the way with $1.3 million combined in his campaign account and political action committee, Cam PAC.

Rep. Justin Jones has just over $1 million in his campaign account. As of February 1, the Nashville Democrat who raised most of his money following his expulsion in April, hasn’t formed a PAC. 

Senate speaker Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, aren’t far behind Jones.

McNally has around $953,000 in his campaign and political action committee (McPAC) accounts, while Yager has over $962,000 in his accounts. Yager’s political action committee is called KeyPAC. 

The latest cash reports come from campaign finance reports due at the end of January covering the last six months.

This is last report due from lawmakers and political action committees (PACs) before the 2024 legislative session and the beginning of state elections later this year.

Republican caucuses in both the House and Senate report a significant advantage over the Democratic caucus.

Cash-on-hand as of February 1:

  • House Republicans: $744,378
  • House Democrats: $411,065
  • Senate Republicans: $1,085,857
  • Senate Democrats: $147,662

The publicly available reports also provide for the first time a look at the hidden donors behind an anti-Freddie O’Connell PAC during Nashville’s 2023 mayoral election and other large movements of political spending heading into the year.

Exploiting loopholes

A loophole in the state’s latest campaign finance law requiring PACs to report spending to the state instead of local officials has allowed groups influencing municipal elections to keep their donors hidden until months after the races.

For example, Nashville held its mayoral election in two stages in August and September of 2023, but the Save Nashville PAC wasn’t required to report its donors until the latest campaign finance deadline. This loophole only exists for elections held in odd years.

The Save Nashville PAC — which purchased TV advertisements and mailers attacking O’Connell during his runoff election against Alice Rolli — kept its more than $660,000 in donations hidden for months.

The top five donors were: 

  • Nashville attorney Robert Echols: $169,504.46
  • Wilson County Attorney Jack Lowery: $150,000
  • Pembroke Holdings LLC (a company registered by Lowery): $100,000
  • Advance Financial owner Michael Hodges: $50,000
  • Rodes Hart, an executive vice president with Brookside Realty: $26,625

Freddie creates Ready PAC

Despite the expenditures of the Save Nashville PAC, O’Connell won the mayoral runoff election against Rolli in September. 

Before the runoff, O’Connell struggled to raise money compared to some of his opponents. He spent nearly all his campaign cash before the first round of voting held in August.

Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell. (Photo: John Partipilo)

O’Connell finished with the most votes in the first round cementing his status as the frontrunner, after which he raised nearly $1.2 million.

He finished the election with $560,000 left in his mayoral campaign account, using some of the leftover campaign cash to form the Ready PAC by transferring $290,000 to it.

Education PACs reload

Several pro-charter and voucher groups moved large chunks of money into affiliated PACs in anticipation of the upcoming legislative debate over school vouchers and the 2024 election season.

  • Tennesseans for Students donated $215,000 to Team Kid PAC
  • Campaign for Great Public Schools donated $135,000 to Excellence in Public Education PAC
  • TennesseeCan donated $61,500 to Tennesseans for Putting Students First

The top 10 donors to lawmakers since July 1, 2023

The latest campaign finance reporting period covers July 1, 2023, to January 15, 2024 and the following covers donations to lawmakers of both political parties.

  1. Tennessee Realtors: $220,500
  2. Wine Spirits and Wholesalers of Tennessee: $217,000
  3. HCA Healthcare: $192,000
  4. Build Tennessee PAC: $186,000
  5. Tennessee Highway Contractors PAC: $150,000
  6. Tennessee Banks Association: $149,300
  7. Tennessee Hospital Association: $147,740
  8. Advance Financial: $136,500
  9. BlueCross BlueShield: $130,000
  10. Amazon: $125,500

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