STAND investment into Williamson race now totals $100K


STAND investment into Williamson race now totals $100K

While the pre-primary financial disclosures only cover the month of July, one special interest group has invested an additional $25,000 in the House District 65 race.

While the pre-primary financial disclosures only cover the month of July, one special interest group has invested an additional $25,000 in the House District 65 race.

STAND for Children Tennessee and its independent expenditure committee have sent mailers, spent money on advertising and given money directly to Franklin’s political newcomer Sam Whitson.

The group is affiliated with the national education nonprofit STAND for Children, Inc., which has offices in 11 states, including branches in Nashville and Memphis. The 20-year-old group advertises that it works to push for better education on a range of issues from pre-kindergarten, college and career readiness and the quality of schools – both public and charter.

The STAND for Children, Inc. Independent Expenditure Committee spent $23,528.94 on the race in the last 28 days, both on mailers regarding Whitson and incumbent Jeremy Durham. In total, the group collected nearly $700,000 in that time to also invest in not only the Metro Nashville Public Schools race, but four other house races across the state.

Despite Durham’s campaign suspension on July 14, STAND spent close to $10,000 on mailers in favor of Whitson since then. They used $4,522.94 on Durham-related mailers.

That equates to nearly $14,600 in the last 10 days.

“We continued to invest in Sam Whitson because we believe he is an education champion and will keep children at the center of his policy priorities,” said Krista Spurgin, Stand for Children Tennessee Independent Expenditure Campaign chair. “With Jeremy Durham still on the ballot, we felt that we needed to continue to educate voters about Sam and the good he can do if elected.”

STAND PAC of Tennessee also gave an additional $2,000 to Whitson as a candidate.

During the second quarter, the expenditure committee spent $64,330.25 on mailers and postage supporting Whitson, and an additional $4,522.94 on mailers about Durham. His campaign also received $5,000 from the STAND PAC of Tennessee. The second quarter’s total came out to nearly $74,000.

And while the amount of money spent polling on various candidates can’t be quantified, a new number emerged – STAND for Children has now spent more than $100,000 in the Williamson County race alone.

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While sitting at a polling station in Fairview on Friday afternoon, Whitson said he had no idea the special interest group had put such a force toward his campaign.

“It’s beyond me, too,” he said. “I am just as surprised as you are about their interest in this campaign. I have no coordination with the people doing the mailers. I appreciate them. They stood up early on when no one else was supporting me.”

Whitson speculated the group spent so much money on him because he imagined they wanted a figure in the legislature who is “responsible” and one with “integrity.”

“I guess they thought my opponent had so much money and that they thought it would be a tougher race. I’ve not had any contact, and what you told me [about STAND PAC’s donation] is news to me. I have been focusing on my own campaign. If you had asked me last year about STAND for Children, I wouldn’t have known. I am learning a lot about state-level politics and how there’s a lot of players in this process.”

Whitson has expressed throughout the last few months that he was beholden to no special interest groups. He explained that STAND’s investment of now more than $100,000 wouldn’t change that.

“I am not beholden to STAND,” he said. “They’ve not asked me to support anything or contacted me on how to vote on anything or asked me to take a position on anything. I think they just want to make sure they have a representative who has integrity. There seems to be a lot of interests in that, and that’s how I take it.”

The group has largely focused on candidates in the Metro Nashville Public Schools race who are pro-charter schools. A Tennessean investigation into emails leaked between STAND and education nonprofit the Martha O’Bryan Center demonstrated STAND’s tenacity in wanting to unseat three incumbents in the race who have been vocal about not wanting charters in Nashville schools.

That type of public-private partnership usually happens in places where failing schools exist. Neither Williamson County Schools or the Franklin Special School District have any schools in trouble or near failing.

Though the likelihood of charter schools in Williamson County may not be likely at this juncture, STAND Tennessee Campaign Field Director Carter Lawrence said they wanted a candidate who could see the bigger picture across all 95 counties.

“Stand appreciates that Sam wants to make sure that all Tennessee children, regardless of zip code, have access to strong public schools and understands that high-quality public charters can be a component of meeting the need for a district,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said it’s undecided if STAND will pour money into general races, noting they originally only got involved for the Republican primary.

“We certainly hope Sam wins, but we haven’t thought past Aug. 4.”

Whitson will face Durham on the primary ballot. The winner of that race will run against Democrat Holly McCall in November.

Emily West covers Franklin and Williamson County government and schools for Home Page Media Group. Contact her at emily@franklinhomepage.com. Follow her on Twitter via @emwest22.

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