‘Super PAC’ (TN version) to aid Green’s run for governor

A new political action committee has been established to help state Sen. Mark Green’s bid for the 2018 Republican gubernatorial election through independent expenditures. Named Leading the Way, the PAC reported raising $47,500 in its initial financial disclosure filed last week.

Green, R-Clarksville, is the first candidate to file a campaign committee to run for governor in 2018, though multiple politicians have declared an interest in doing so. Green reported raising $193,000 for that account in its initial report, including $23,000 from the PAC he operates himself.

As initially reported by The Tennessee Journal, Leading the Way PAC is spearheaded by Charles Cato, an attorney, former lobbyist and financial advisor who was active in fundraising for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ unsuccessfully campaign for the Republican presidential nomination last year.

Says Cato in an email:

I did indeed form Leading The Way PAC in early November last year as an uncompensated volunteer working with a group of politically interested Tennesseans who wanted an independent vehicle to support the nomination and election of a limited government Constitutional conservative as Tennessee’s next Governor in the upcoming 2018 election cycle. My associates and I believe very strongly that Senator Mark Green is that candidate and that he stands to be a truly transformational Governor for the people of Tennessee.

Although Tennessee does not officially recognize a class of multi-candidate political committee called a “Super PAC”, Leading The Way was set up to operate in practice as a super pac.  We anticipate making no direct or in-kind candidate contributions. Instead, we’ll make only Independent Expenditures in support of, or possibly in opposition to, various candidates in the Governor’s race as the campaign proceeds between now and the election. We are not affiliated with nor will we coordinate our spending or voter contact plans with any candidate or candidate committee. As a result, we are able to accept contributions without dollar limitation. As a multi-candidate political committee in Tennessee, we are able to be involved in races for other state offices, i.e. the General Assembly. Our total focus for the 2018 cycle, however, will be in the Governor’s race – initially of course in the August 2018 Republican Primary election.

In the few months since our inception I’ve focused on assembling a team of seasoned political campaign professionals to handle the day to day political operations of the pac, We now have under contract, or are in late stage negotiations with, a general political consultant, a polling firm, opposition research vendors, direct mail design and production people, data analytics specialists, media production and placement firms, fundraising consultants, etc. Our focus for much of 2017 will necessarily be on fundraising – as I imagine it will be for the candidates themselves – with possibly some internal polling and research later in the year for purposes of planning, assessment of the overall political landscape in Tennessee, and for future message development. Beyond that, we’ll proceed as seems appropriate based on how the race develops and the availability of funding to support our initiatives.

…My intention is to run a very lean operation with a very high percentage of our donors’ funds going toward direct voter contact efforts, or what I call “putting lead on target.” Unlike some “dark money” political entities, Leading The Way PAC will be financially transparent regarding both the sources and the uses of any funds we’re dealing with. In my role as the unpaid “general contractor” for the group I have no financial interest whatsoever in any of the groups or vendors who we may have under contract.

At least three other Republican state legislators are eyeing a run for governor next year – House Speaker Beth Harwell, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville and Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville. On the Democratic side, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says he’s also considering a run for governor.

As with Green, the legislators all have established state campaign accounts now that could be used to help finance campaigns for governor, though some complicated restrictions apply. Leading the way is Harwell with about $1.8 million stashed in her accounts, including a PAC, a 2016 House reelection campaign account and a newly-established account that, as established, would fund her reelection campaign to her House seat in 2018.

Harwell disclosed collecting $50,000 in the initial disclosure for her 2018 House reelection account. She has about $895,000 in her 2016 reelection campaign account, according to the latest report, and a balance of $826,000 in her PAC account.

Norris has $595,000 in his Senate reelection campaign account and $316,000 in his PAC, according to the last disclosures. Overbey reported $180,000 in his campaign account. Fitzhugh reports a $25,000 balance in his campaign account and $4,439 in his PAC.

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