NASHVILLE — Republican Weston Wamp's effort to oust U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the 3rd Congressional District's GOP primary is about to get a big financial assist from an independent "super PAC."
Chattanoogan Allan Davis, a partner in the Lamp Post Group that employs the 27-year-old Wamp, says he has given $300,000 to the Fairfax Station, Va.-based Character Counts PAC to make independent expenditures benefiting Wamp.
That's almost half the $640,044 cash on hand that Fleischmann reported as of March 31. Second-quarter reporting is due later this month.
In an interview Thursday, Davis said, "I've known Weston for a number of years and pretty much spent my career finding talented young people and investing in them. And I'm just a big believer in having young people represented in office, and I'm just really a big believer in Weston."
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., right, speaks during the 3rd Congressional District Republican debate with Weston Wamp, center, in a one-on-one meeting inside the WTCI television studio Wednesday afternoon. The taped show was televised at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. The event was moderated by Dave Flessner, left, from the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Wamp, according to Davis, "represents kind of the tip of the spear on a movement to get more young people's voices heard. I think part of the problem is we have a bunch of 60-year-old white people arguing [in Congress] and getting nothing done."
Davis emphasized that neither the Lamp Post Group nor any of its partners are involved with the super PAC. The Lamp Post Group is a "venture incubator" that provides capital and mentorship to growing start-ups. Wamp, son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., is a founding director and director of communications for the firm.
As permitted under a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend as much as they like to advocate for or against political candidates.
But they can't give directly to candidates and are not allowed to coordinate their activities with campaigns they back.
Efforts to reach Weston Wamp directly were unsuccessful Thursday.
The entry of the little-known super PAC Character Counts, which figured prominently in a 2012 Florida congressional primary, may pose a dilemma for Wamp in his second campaign against Fleischmann.
When Wamp ran in the 2012 GOP primary, he was openly critical of super PACs.
For example, as part of his plan to "restore confidence" in the federal government, Wamp listed "eliminate Super Pacs" among the points on his 2012 campaign website.
On another occasion in 2012, the Times Free Press reported he tweeted this: "Hope people realize that Super PACs are giving unlimited & unprecedented influence to billionaires and corporate interests in elections."
Fleischmann campaign adviser Chip Saltsman was skeptical of there being no coordination between the Character Counts PAC and the Wamp campaign.
"There's a super PAC [donation] that's coming from the Lamp Post Group -- even though they're saying there's not any coordination with Weston -- but Weston's spending all his time taking credit for the Lamp Post Group. And it's not coordinated? OK," Saltsman said sarcastically.
"I tell you what's funny about it. I think Weston's been on the record kind of talking about big money in politics, but I guess he's going to have no problem with this big money because it's for him."
Another Lamp Post Group partner, Jack Studer, said in a statement that "as a business, Lamp Post Group has not in the past and does not have future plans to make any political contributions this election cycle, including in the race to represent Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District."
"That said," Studer added, "we respect the rights of our employees to participate in the electoral process and make contributions of their own, both with their time or financial resources."
According to Davis, Wamp is on paid leave from the Lamp Post Group during the campaign.
Unlike some tax-exempt groups, super PACS report their contributors. Davis said he chose to go with a super PAC because he believes in transparency. He added he is working with GOP strategist David Polyansky, president of the New Strategies Group, who located Character Counts.
It was unclear when the super PAC might jump in with television ads and whether the advertising would support Wamp or simply attack Fleischmann.
Polyansky did not return a telephone call seeking comment. The strategist worked in Republican Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential effort as well as Republican Michelle Bachmann's 2012 presidential campaign. His name does not appear in any of Character Counts filings from 2012 through March of this year.
In 2012, the Character Counts PAC made nearly $132,000 in independent expenditures attacking then-candidate Trey Radel in Florida's 19th Congressional District GOP primary, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The super PAC's handful of donors were from Florida, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Radel won. But the former talk radio show host resigned his seat earlier this year after he was caught buying cocaine from a federal law enforcement agent.
Character Counts PAC's most recent report listed a cash balance of $187.26.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...