I’ve been doing research in getting ready for the big campaign kickoff after the first of the year. One of the interesting things I’ve been looking at is how much in donations the candidates for the various campaigns have received and where those donations come from.
I’ll be talking about my stance on donations and campaign spending soon. But, it’s been shocking to me how much money can be and has been spent on political campaigns for the 11 seats on the Knox County Commission. I should note that I’m getting this information from public sources. You can go to the Knox County Election Commission website and find all of the financial disclosure forms here. You can also find previous election voting results here. So, when I talk about these numbers here, feel free to go and double check that I’ve got the right information.
In the elections in 2016 and 2018, the sitting Commissioners, in their winning campaigns, raised anywhere from about $2,000 to about $140,000. Of the 10 races I looked at (for some reason there were no disclosure forms available on the Election Commission website for the Commissioner from District 8), eight of the winning Commissioners raised $10,000 or more. Five of them raised $30,000 or more. A couple of the Commissioners run county-wide, so you might understand the need for more money in their campaigns. But, it’s harder to understand why you need $29,000 for a race where you win with about 1300 votes. Or, as in District 4 where I’m running, why you need $75,000 for a race where you win with just about 2600 votes. As I said, that particular fact is going to be a big part of what I focus on in my campaign, so I’m going to leave it there for now.
Even with all that money being raised, I was surprised to see how active Political Action Committees (PACs) are in Knox County. In going through the relevant disclosure forms, I found the following PACs had given fairly large sums to the campaigns of many of the Commissioners. These include:
- Tennessee Realtors PAC
- Building Industry PAC
- Fraternal Order of Police PAC
- Rural Metro Employees PAC
- Sevier County Good Government PAC
- Tennesseeans For Bicycling PAC
- Knox County Education Association PAC
- Making A Reasonable Stand PAC
I noted that the Tennessee Realtors PAC and the Building Industry PAC gave donations to multiple campaigns. Many of these donations were about $500. When you’re giving to seven or eight Commissioners at $500 a pop, you’re starting to get into real money coming from one source. And the fact that there are at least eight different PACs giving money to Knox County Commission political campaigns is a sign, to me at least, of something wrong with the system. It’s a genuinely good thing that campaigns have to disclose the contributions they receive. We also have to disclose how the money is spent. These mandatory disclosures let us all evaluate how much money is coming into our campaigns and from where that money is coming. But with PACs, it’s all just a little less clear where that money is coming from.
To be clear, PACs are legal political entities. The campaigns are allowed to take their money, as long as they keep within donation limits and do the proper disclosures. This is the system we are all working within. But, for my money, pun intended, the system stinks. PACs undermine the idea of transparency in politics and government that the mandatory financial disclosures are there to establish and support. So, even though I would be permitted to accept PAC money, I’m establishing at the outset of my campaign that I will not do so. Heck, maybe those PACs wouldn’t have considered giving to my campaign in the first place. That might be. But I’m announcing this now so that I can be held publicly accountable for this pledge. Because I think that’s what candidates should do.