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Senate money sources cause debate
Feb 17, 2006 12:00 am
February 13, 2006
This year's battle for Tennessee's open U.S. Senate seat is an important race for Democrats across the country, and they are already voting with their wallets.
At the end of 2005, the five candidates eyeing the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist brought in more than $10 million, mostly from individual donors, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The lead Tennessee Democrat vying for Frist's seat – Congressman Harold Ford Jr. – had a significantly higher percentage of his individual campaign contributions coming from outside of Tennessee than any of his Republican counterparts.
At the end of the fourth quarter disclosure period in 2005, 45 percent of Ford's total individual contributions came from outside the state.
The other Democrat in the race, State Sen. Rosalind Kurita, also managed to edge out the GOP field in individual contributions from outside the state with 12 percent. The next closest was former Congressman Van Hilleary with 11 percent.
Democrats attribute the out-of-state money flowing to their candidates to the national profile of the race – a bid to win White House hopeful Frist's seat. Ford's status as a star personality nationally for Democrats is also a factor.
Mark Brown, spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party, said Ford's ability to raise money from outside the state should be viewed as a strength.
"In Harold Ford Jr., you have a candidate who has a national presence, so he's drawing some dollars from around the country," Brown said. "And this is an important seat for the national Democrats. This is seat we can pick up, and that has drawn a lot of attention."
An analysis of Federal Election Commission records for all candidates by The Lebanon Democrat coupled with Political Moneyline's analysis of the campaign accounts show the GOP field in Tennessee's Senate race – former Congressmen Ed Bryant, Hilleary and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker – pulling contributions mainly from Tennesseans.
The race's leading fund-raiser, Corker, was also its most down-home solicitor. Of the total $4.7 million Corker has raised, $3.5 million was from individuals in Tennessee compared to the $109,950 he raised from individuals from other states. That made his out-of-state individual fund-raising percentage 3 percent of all his individual contributions.
On the other side of the coin was Ford. The $643,970 – or 45 percent of his total individual contributions – Ford raised from donors in other states was far higher than anyone else.
The next highest out-of-state total came from Hilleary, whose $100,890 in out-of-state individual contributions constituted 11 percent of his total individual donations last year.
Outside of Tennessee, Ford collected the most money from donors in New York, Washington, D.C., Illinois, California and Florida, pulling in at least $45,000 in individual contributions from each of those states or districts.
Hilleary raised at least $10,000 from donors in five other states or districts: Virginia, Florida, Kentucky, Washington, D.C. and Maryland.
Behind Ford, the next highest percentage of out-of-state money was collected by Kurita, who raised $59,850 (12 percent) of her $426,245 in individual contributions from donors in other states.
Forty-five percent ($26,800) of Kurita's out-of-state dollars were donated by 13 individuals from Colorado.
Bryant raised 91 percent of his $793,329 in individual contributions from within the state and collected nearly $20,000 from sets of donors in Texas and Virginia.
Ford also raised more money, as a percentage of his total, from Political Action Committees (PACs) than any of the other four candidates.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 80 percent of Ford's input came from individuals while 20 percent came from PACs.
And here, too, Corker drew the sharpest distinction from the Memphis Democrat, raising 98 percent of his money from individuals.
The Corker campaign used the financial reports to take a shot at the Democratic frontrunner Friday, a day after the first candidate forum in the race featuring all five Senate hopefuls.
"Bob Corker has a conservative record in Tennessee, so he's able to raise money from conservatives right here in Tennessee," said Ben Mitchell, a spokesman for the Corker campaign.
Taking aim directly at Ford, Mitchell said the Democratic congressman is "relying on out-of-state donations, because he's been unable to find sufficient support here in Tennessee, which is not surprising based on his liberal record in Washington."
"Congressman Ford is the frontrunner in the Senate campaign because people believe in him and his plan for the future," Ford campaign spokesman Michael Powell said. "Bob Corker is running a distant third in his primary, bless his heart."
At the same time, Republicans and Democrats claimed the fund-raising trends worked to their advantage.
Bob Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, said fund-raising up to now "just proves that Tennesseans know what's best for their state."
"I don't think Tennesseans want folks who live in New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles and Chicago picking their next United States senator," Davis said.
"If the Republicans could raise money around the country at this point, I think they would be doing the same," Brown replied.
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at email@example.com.