WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. - Tennessee lawmakers make less than $20,000 a year in salaries, but the campaign to become the next representative can be very expensive.
We pulled the campaign finance reports and learned candidates have already spent more than double the amount of their salary ahead of Thursday's primary election.
From television ads, to billboards, to road signs,calling the race for Tennessee's seventh district state house seat heated is an understatement. Nasty might be a better description of the race.
Two of the three candidates blame the other for the mudslinging. "I did not expect that my opponent to tell lies about me, throw negative attacks at me, I hoped he would keep it clean," State Representative Matthew Hill said about opponent Phil Carriger.
Carriger fired back about the messages coming from the Hill campaign. "We tried to run a fact based campaign. The negative attacks have taken me by surprise," he said.
There are three names on the ballot, but for the most part it's a two-man fight. Incumbent Mathew Hill and former Johnson City commissioner Phil Carriger have been attacking each other.
We pulled the latest finance filings from the state election office and found staggering totals. Carriger and Hill have each spent more than five times the entire salary for the two-year term.
Carriger has dropped more than $111,000; Matthew Hill has spent more than $94,000.
Follow the money and you'll find its not coming out of their pockets. Matthew Hill's campaign records show 39 contributors; 27 of those are political action committees. "I contend the PAC contributions come from local individuals, so there is a strong case to be made from organizations and local individuals here in Johnson City and Washington County," says Hill.
We dug deeper into the most recent contribution records from those political action committees and found very few local donors. The vast majority were not even from Tennessee, instead places like Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida. "I never said all of it is. There are a number of PACs that are happy to have that," says Hill.
Phil Carriger picked up donations from nearly 120 donors. All but one are individuals, mostly living in the Tri-Cities. The filings show donations from one political action committee. "All of my money, 96 percent of it, comes from local people. That one PAC you mentioned is Tennessee-based," says Carriger.
Todd Franklin, the third Republican on the ballot, says the extreme spending of his opponents have virtually made him invisible to voters. "There's a lot of people who don't even know exists, it makes it extremely hard," says Franklin.
Early voting ended Saturday. Staff members in the Election Commission office say something is bringing out the voters. There were over 1,200 more people voting early this year than when these same offices were on the ballot four years ago.
Franklin is campaigning to bring change to education. "We need to be open minded. There are a lot of issues, think outside the box," says Todd Franklin.
Carriger and Hill say they too are running on issues, but say it's the opponent's mudslinging that is causing the distraction. "I want to get rid of the Hall income tax, and continue to cut away on the tax on groceries," says Hill.
"I want to get the money that was promised to our veteran's memorial," says Carriger, "I want to bring good paying jobs, and I want to get our better paving schedule, new roads."
With no Democrat on the ballot, Thursday's primary winner will go unopposed in the November general election.
Spending in the other state representative race in Washington County between Micah Van Huss and challenger Clayton Stout has been far less.
However, records show one non-campaign connected political action committee has spent more than $30,000 on advertising in that race. The group Advance Tennessee is running advertisements against incumbent Micah Van Huss.