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REVEALED EXTRA: Who's funding Tennessee's political campaigns? Liquor distributors, Realtors top list

Realtors: Donations 'earn us a seat at the table'
Posted: 2:11 PM, Mar 15, 2022
Updated: 2024-01-10 11:16:21-05
earn us a seat at the table.jpg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee's wine and liquor distributors poured more money into the state's political campaigns in the last five years than any other group, closely followed by the state's Realtors, an analysis of campaign finance data reveals.

Data from the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance shows the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee PAC served up $944,450 in campaign contributions between 2017 and 2021, while the Tennessee Realtors PAC handed out $915,350.

Liquor lobbyist Ryan Haynes declined to comment on his politically powerful organization's political giving when NewsChannel 5 Investigates spotted him attending several pre-session fundraisers back in January.

Liquor lobbyist Ryan Haynes.jpeg
Liquor lobbyist Ryan Haynes declines comment walking into fundraiser for Lt. Gov. Randy McNally's MCPAC.

As NewsChannel 5 previously revealed, a brochure for the Realtors PAC says the group's political contributions "earn us a seat at the table." The group's defeat of an impact-fee bill was heralded as an example of "Your RPAC Dollars At Work!"

Rounding out the top five:

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

Contributions to Gov. Bill Lee

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Gov. Bill Lee

The liquor industry and the Realtors each contributed about $40,000 to Gov. Bill Lee's campaign coffers, the data shows.

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

The top five also includes:

  • H.G. Hill Realty PAC: $49,000
  • Community Health Systems: $49,000
  • Another engineering firm Volker & Associates's PAC: $48,200
  • PhRMA Tennessee PAC, representing the pharmaceutical industry: $47,600

Contributions to Lt. Gov. Randy McNally

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Lt. Gov. Randy McNally

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

Rounding out the top five for the Oak Ridge Republican's campaign committees:

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

Outside his own pre-session fundraiser back in January, the lieutenant governor said he hoped that no one expected 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 record."

Contributions to House Speaker Cameron Sexton

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House Speaker Cameron Sexton

The Realtors were also the largest single contributor to House Speaker Cameron Sexton's political campaign and his CAM PAC, with a combined $88,500, followed by liquor distributors with $54,000.

Sexton, a Crossville Republican, was elected to the speakership 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.


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