Gubernatorial fund raising kicks into high gear

Monday, June 8, 2009 at 1:00am

What’s your name? Who’s your daddy? Those are the questions The Zombies asked in 1969 with their hit “Time of the Season,” and they will be the questions on the lips of a slew of politicians wanting to separate you from your wallet this summer.

The politicians want your cash so they can finance their campaigns for the 2010 governor’s race, and their phone calls and e-mail solicitations are going to hit a fever pitch over the next few months.

That’s because while a number of the candidates have been trying to raise money the last several months, the fund-raising field is about to get a whole lot more crowded when the state Legislature adjourns for the year.

State law prohibits members of the Tennessee General Assembly from raising campaign funds until June 1, regardless of whether session has adjourned. After session is over, then they can start going after money from political action committees or PACs.

Those who have been raising funds thus far on the Democratic side are Nashville businessman Ward Cammack, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter and former state Rep. Kim McMillan of Clarksville. Soon joining them will be state Sen. Roy Herron of Dresden and likely state Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis. Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball is also rumored to be looking at a run.

On the GOP side, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons and Congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga have already begun their fund-raising drive and are about to have to contend with the fund-raising machine of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

Typically, the summer before an election year is met with some fund-raising efforts but not the likes you are about to see. Candidates from both parties will try to suck up as much money as they can in a bad economy to force other candidates in their primary out of the race.

Think of it like a roller derby disguised as a bean supper. With between eight and 10 candidates aggressively vying for your cash, expect to be hit up early and often.

The first filing period of substance was supposed to have been June 30. That is when we would have seen how the candidates not constrained by fund-raising rules fared against their legislative counterparts. Since the state legislature has been in session longer this year, that date won’t be as “make or break” for candidates as it looked like it would be just a few months ago.

If you want to know why the fund-raising race, and in effect the 2010 governor’s race, got started so much earlier this election cycle, look no further than what occurred on Jan. 4, 2009. It was on that day that former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist announced that he would not seek the governor’s office.

Rumors at the State Capitol at the time were that Frist didn’t plan on making the decision so early, but fellow Republicans who were chomping at the bit to run should he decide not to hounded him to the point of exasperation. Sure enough, 48 hours had not passed without Wamp, Haslam and Gibbons declaring their intentions for the GOP primary.

Democratic candidates didn’t bum rush the stage quite as quickly. But after seeing the Republicans in action and taking into account the poor fund-raising prospects due to the economy, most of the expected contenders in that primary have been forced to show their hand as well.

The goal for all of the candidates will be to raise approximately $1.5 million to $2 million between late June through December of this year.

Anything short of that will prompt speculation that a particular candidate is going to run out of gas and is not going to make it to the finish line. At that point, rival campaigns will start calling donors of candidates that have fallen below the threshold and try to convince them to get on a “winning team.”

Many of the candidates such as Haslam, Cammack and McWherter have the ability to self-fund their campaigns to an extent. They, like Gov. Phil Bredesen, have personal reserves that they can tap into, but that does not get them off the fund-raising hook.

Politicians know that when you donate money to their campaign, be it as little as $10, that you have developed an ownership stake in their efforts and are more likely to work hard to see them succeed. A donor, rather than someone who just says that they are for you, is more likely to make phone calls on behalf of a candidate.

In the past, most of the fund-raising efforts taking place during this point in an election cycle have been called “dialing for dollars.” Candidates sit holed up in an office with a phone and a staff member that literally stays on their case to keep calling potential contributors until they are blue in the face. That meant that those of us without a lot of zeroes in our checking accounts were left alone.

Not anymore.

If you are a “Joe the Plumber” type, your e-mail inbox is about to get hit with an avalanche of solicitations. Just as President Barack Obama raked in millions of dollars for his campaign off Internet donations, Tennessee politicians are going to try to do the same. It is cheap for them to “send the ask,” and small donations add up quickly when done en masse.

If any Democrat or Republican has you on any sort of mailing list, your money is about to be on someone’s radar.


1 Comment on this post:

By: Kosh III on 6/8/09 at 6:56

Campaigns should not be allowed to start this early.