Republicans plugged about $1.74 million into state-level races in the final weeks leading up to next week’s general election.
The state GOP’s main political action committee threw in $1.2 million worth of campaign ads, direct mail pieces, polling and campaign workers while the party’s House and Senate caucuses kicked in more than a half million dollars combined, according to state campaign finance reports.
The heavy GOP spending is almost three times as much as its Democratic Party counterparts who spent $617,811 on the election in the last four weeks, according to their pre-general election campaign finance reports. Most of the expenses covered postage and mailing costs while funneling other cash directly to a handful of candidates.
“We like to be a broader resource than just a contributor to a campaign,” said Adam Nickas, spokesman for the Tennessee Republican Party, which is behind the GOP’s major PAC, called Tennessee Legislative Campaign Committee. “It just makes more sense for us to offer services like direct mail and various types of media.”
"The special interest Republican Party is bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists and the well connected," said Brandon Puttbrese, spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party.
"There was never any doubt their big money, Citizens United-style machine would outspend campaigns that are primarily supported by working people and middle class families," he said, referencing the landmark 2010 court decision that lifted the cap on independent expenditures by corporations and unions.
Republicans spent an average of almost $65,000 a day during the reporting period, which reflects political spending from Oct. 1 to 27. Democrats spent an average of just under $23,000 a day.
The Tennessee Democratic Party spent nearly $500,000 on legislative elections in the last month — about as much as the GOP legislative caucuses combined. Meanwhile, the House and Senate Democratic caucuses spent an extra $118,000 to get their members elected.
The campaign spending reports were due to the state Oct. 30 and are the last look at which groups contributed to political campaigns prior to the Nov. 6 election.
State Republicans are looking at next week’s election to pick up at least two seats in each chamber to score super majorities in both. The GOP-to-Democrat ratio is 20-13 in the Senate and 64-34 in the House with one independent. However, 11 Democrats decided not to run for re-election this year.
The pre-general election spending hints at races where the parties are focusing their attention. House Speaker Beth Harwell distributed some $20,000 to candidates through her political action committee, although the amount of money individual lawmakers spent did not count toward The City Paper's tally of total party spending.
Of that, she gave $5,000 to Charles Williamson, a Goodlettsville Republican facing off against Nashville Democrat Bo Mitchell in the 50th district; and another $5,000 to Ben Claybaker who is up against Democrat Jason Powell in District 53.
Lieutenant Gov. Ron Ramsey, who controls the state Senate, through his PAC spent $322,000 on everything from paying campaign workers, making political calls and about $125,000 to the Tennessee Republican Party alone.
Ramsey also cut a $5,000 check to Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham of Somerville who faces off against Meryl Rice of Whiteville.
Leading House Democrat Craig Fizthugh spent $87,000 in the waning weeks of the election. The House minority leader, who is in his own contested race, sent $6,250 of it to fellow Democrats and most of the rest to campaign staff, signs, ads and supplies.
His contributions include $1,000 each to incumbent Sherry Jones of Nashville who faces off against Robert Duvall of Antioch, and Mark Maddox of Dresden, a former lawmaker running against incumbent Andy Holt. He also gave $1,000 each to Mark Oakes of Dyersburg and Steve Wright of Springville.