Following the money: donations to Tennessee's Supreme Court retention vote

BRISTOL, Tenn. - One of the choices facing voters Thursday in Tennessee is whether or not to retain 3 of the state's 5 Supreme Court Justices.  This option facing voters is drawing national attention, thanks in part to the amount of money being spent by the justices and the groups in opposition.

The money being spent by political action groups and the three justices is a little staggering, considering Chief Justice Gary Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark and Justice Sharon Lee aren't running against anyone.

They are, in fact, merely campaigning to keep their jobs on the bench of Tennessee's highest court. Other groups, including one backed by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey want them gone.

According to Federal Communication Commission filings, and research by the group Justice at Stake, various parties spent nearly 1 million dollars to date on televised campaign ads, about a tenth of that was spent right here in the Tri-Cities.

Three political groups-  Tennessee Forum, Tennesseans for Fair Courts and State Government Leadership Foundation, have spent the lion's share of dollars on those ads.

The Tennessee Forum, a self described independent political  issues group spending the most spent just a shade over $400,000.

Last week, Tennessee Forum spokeswoman Susan Kaestner told us this election is a historic opportunity to change the Supreme Court bench and open the way for an installation of a more conservative court for the first time "since Reconstruction."

According to financial reports, the majority of The Tennessee Forum's war chest comes courtesy of RAAMPAC -Republicans Achieving A Majority- the political action committee started back in 2003 by now Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey. RAAMPAC donated $425,000 to the Tennessee Forum.  $200,000 on July 10th and $225,000 seven days later.

If you take a look at the campaign finance disclosures of the Justices Wade, Lee and Clark, you will find more than $1million in fund raising efforts. The majority of that money has been donated by lawyers and law firms across Tennessee.

The three justices and other groups championing their retention spent $562,690 T.V. ad time.

Also of note, James Haslam III, Governor Bill Haslam's father, and Jimmy Haslam, he governor's brother, as well as James Haslam's wife Natalie,  all donated to Chief Justice Gary Wade. Mr. and Mrs. Haslam donated $3,500 each.

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