Political campaigns

Who Funds Tennessee’s Political Campaigns?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) – Tennessee wine and liquor distributors have poured more money into state political campaigns in the past five years than any other group, followed closely by state real estate agents , reveals an analysis of campaign finance data.

Data from the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance shows that wine and spirits wholesalers in the Tennessee PAC made $944,450 in campaign contributions between 2017 and 2021, while the Tennessee Realtors PAC distributed $915,350.

Liquor lobbyist Ryan Haynes declined to comment on his politically powerful organization’s political donations when NewsChannel 5 survey spotted him attending several fundraisers ahead of the session in January.

Mike Rose/WTVF

Liquor lobbyist Ryan Haynes declines to comment while heading to Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally’s MCPAC fundraiser.

As NewsChannel 5 previously revealed, a pamphlet for the Realtors PAC says the group’s political contributions are “earning us a seat at the table.” The group’s defeat of an impact fee bill was heralded as an example of “Your PRPP dollars to work!”

To complete the top five:

  • Tennessee Highway Contractors PAC: $738,800
  • Tennessee Bankers Association PAC: $586,700
  • Independent Medicine’s PAC-TN, representing physicians in the state: $537,150

Contributions to Governor Bill Lee

Bill Lee Campaign AP Photo.jpeg

AP Photo

Governor Bill Lee

The liquor industry and real estate agents each contributed about $40,000 to Governor Bill Lee’s campaign coffers, the data shows.

His biggest special interest contribution came from the political action committee of the architectural engineering firm Gresham Smith with $50,000.

The top five also includes:

  • HG Hill Realty CAP: $49,000
  • Community Health Systems: $49,000
  • PAC from another engineering firm Volker & Associates: $48,200
  • PhRMA Tennessee PAC, representing the pharmaceutical industry: $47,600

Contributions to Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally

Randy McNally AP Photo.jpg

AP Photo

Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally

Realtors were the top contributor to Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s own campaign committee and leadership PAC, known as MCPAC, with combined contributions of $135,000.

To complete the top five campaign committees of Oak Ridge Republicans:

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield from TN PAC, $87,500
  • WSWT PAC, liquor distributors, $77,500
  • Banker Jim Ayers, $60,000
  • Amazon, $58,500

Outside of his own pre-session fundraiser in January, the lieutenant governor said he hopes no one expects anything when they contribute to him.

“It’s not a quid pro quo, you come to my lunch and I’ll take care of you. It’s not one of those,” McNally said. “It’s just that you have to have money to run campaigns, and they’re willing to help you because of your past.”

Contributions to Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton

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AP Photo

Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton

Real estate agents were also the biggest contributor to House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s political campaign and his CAM PAC, with a total of $88,500, followed by liquor distributors with $54,000.

Sexton, a Republican from Crossville, was elected president in August 2019.

Next on the list: Big tobacco’s Tennessee Reynolds American PAC with $32,500, followed by Tri-Cities developer Pinnacle North IV LLC, Jack Daniel’s PAC and CorCivic PAC, each with $30,000.

SPECIAL SECTION: Revealed

Do you have information for our investigation? Email us: investigation@newschannel5.com