Pre-General Election Campaign Finance Disclosures are in, and similar to the second quarter, District 19 candidate Jacob Kupin came up on top yet again, but this time with a little help from Icon Entertainment owner Bill Miller.
Of the $49,856 Kupin raised between July 1 and July 24 — more than some candidates have raised during their entire campaign — $18,000 of his funds came from 10 different LLCs owned by Miller.
It’s the same strategy that Lower Broadway bar magnate Steve Smith used to funnel money into District 17 candidate Tonya Esquibel’s campaign in the second quarter. While there may be an $1,800 max donor limit on individuals, it’s technically legal for multiple LLCs to each donate $1,800 to the same candidate, even if the same person owns them.
All of the businesses have the same address listed for the contributions: 119 3rd Ave. S. The Johnny Cash Museum and a handful of Broadway bars owned by Miller all show up in the disclosure. You can see the full rundown here.
“When I started this campaign, I very intentionally wanted to make it a grassroots-based campaign,” Kupin tells the Banner. “And so I started it by getting $100 donations from people that have come to know and support me over the years. I did that purposely, because I knew that in a core downtown race that we’re running, there were going to be a lot of bar owners and restaurateurs and different ventures that were going to put money in the race and I wanted to have money to run a competitive race, but I didn’t want to ever be bought by anybody.”
During the second quarter, when Kupin got most of his funding, most of his money came from individual donors. And while he has accepted money from PACs and Miller, he argues that not only have his opponents done the same, they do not have the strong list of individual donors to back them up.
“I feel perfectly independent of anybody that’s contributing because of that dilution effect,” says Kupin. “If you look through the disclosure, you’ll see labor money, you’ll see restaurant money, you’ll see business money, you’ll see real estate money. But my goal is to really put forward a balanced picture to show that I can work across the aisle with different groups, building coalitions. And again, at the end of the day, my only duty is to District 19.”
In Other Districts…
Following in a distant second and third place are District 10 Incumbent Zach Young and District 17 candidate Terry Vo, who raised $28,060 and $26,396, respectively. Young received $1,500 from Bristol Motor Speedway, $1,800 from Mayor John Cooper, $1,800 from Cooper’s wife Laura and $250 from Cooper’s senior advisor Ben Eagles.
Vo received an $1,800 donation from the billionaire owner of Nashville Soccer Club, John Ingram. Notably, her two opponents, Teaka Jackson and Tonya Esquibel, received $5,000 each from A Better Nashville, a PAC that got a significant portion of its funding from Ingram.
There were also notable candidate-to-candidate donations, seen in District 9 as Stephanie Montenegro out-fundraised her opponent Tonya Hancock for the first time, receiving support from six current and running Metro council members. However, District 30 CM Sandra Sepulveda’s donation had to be returned for being over the limit. Montenegro also received $4,000 from Growing Tennessee’s Future Outlook (GTFO), a PAC primarily supporting LGBTQ candidates and allies.
Hancock did not fall behind in spending, entering this quarter with almost double Montenegro’s cash on hand and outspending Montenegro. Hancock received support from District 18 Councilmember Tom Cash and the Bristol Motor Speedway, continuing to position this Council race on the speedway.
In the crowded District 1 race, Joy Smith Kimbrough fundraised and spent more than $20,000 while her opponents remained in the $1,000 range. Despite her smaller funding base, Ruby Baker received funding support from At-Large candidate Jeff Syracuse. Two of her opponents, Sean Dailey and Rob Harris, did not file disclosures (see list of non-filers below).
Two real-estate PACs showed interest in the East Nashville District 6 race, backing both candidates, with Daniel McDonell receiving slightly more from the Tennessee Realtors PAC.
In District 11, Eric Patton received the most individual contributions by a long shot, including several current council member donations. At first glance, it appeared that Steve Smith’s media consultant Jeff Eslick raised nearly double his competitors, Sherard Edington and Patton. But Eslick loaned himself about $32,058 of this money, which he spent significantly on TV ads – a rarity for council candidates due to limited funding. The only other two donors are himself and the President of deGraauw Electric LLC. Edington, endorsed by the district’s former representative, Larry Hagar, received most of his funding from PACs and loans. Joe Delucas did not raise or spend any money.
Half of the four-candidate-race in District 29 did not file their disclosures for this quarter. Two candidates, John Reed and Tasha Ellis, are going into the election with about the same amount of cash on hand. Ellis’ fundraising and spending trails behind Reed’s, though Ellis picked up a few thousand dollars from PACs.
Of the 70 candidates in district races, 8 did not file their campaign finance disclosures. The Davidson County Elections Commission will send these candidates to the state on Monday: Mike Cortese, Sean Dailey, Luke Elliott, Rob Harris, Jama Mohamed, Michele Vetter, Jennifer Frensley Webb, and Lisa Williams.
Update, Aug. 1, 5 p.m.: Jama Mohamed told the Banner that due to issues with the Campaign Finance portal, his disclosure “wasn’t fully submitted/accepted until Saturday,” July 29. His disclosure can be found here.