Memphis Contributors Put Dollars Behind Thompson

By Andy Meek

HANDSOME HAUL: While Fred Thompson came out in Q3 as the biggest presidential fundraiser in Memphis, Hillary Clinton didn't do too shabby a job either, FEC figures show. -- Illustration By Philip Thompson

Memphians cracked open their checkbooks and whipped out their wallets, shelling out more than $320,000 on presidential candidates in the third quarter, according to reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission.

And in the fundraising cycle spanning June 4 through Sept. 30, the lion's share of local campaign checks went to Republican candidates.

Tiger at the top

The candidate with the most money in the bank from Memphis supporters is, at the moment, trailing the front of the pack in the money race nationwide. Yet Fred Thompson, the former U.S. senator from Tennessee and current Republican presidential hopeful, raked in more than $110,000 via 115 contributions from Memphis in Q3.

Part of that haul came from a private campaign fundraiser at The Racquet Club of Memphis in September.

Thompson, a University of Memphis graduate and all-round avuncular figure in Hollywood and political circles, hasn't emerged as a big-moneyed player in the fundraising battle thus far. The former star of NBC's "Law & Order" took in about $9.3 million nationally in Q3.

That's a far cry from, for example, the $28 million raised during the same period by Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. Yet Thompson has tapped a large base of support in Tennessee, from whose contributors he pocketed $2.7 million in the third quarter.

"We haven't even had an election yet - just think what it's going to be like after we win and come back," said Thompson at a late- September campaign event in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., to the cheers of the small-town crowd gathered to greet him.

The occasion was a hometown rally for Thompson, where he spoke from the white gazebo in Lawrenceburg's historic square, a bronze statue of Davy Crockett standing a short distance away.

Spreading the wealth

Nearly topping the $70,000 mark, meanwhile, were Q3 Memphis campaign contributions to Vietnam War hero and Republican U.S. senator from Arizona John McCain. Wealthy businessman and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, another Republican candidate, picked up more than $21,000.

But the Hillary Clinton campaign juggernaut topped them both, with almost $80,000 going to the Democratic New York U.S. senator and former first lady. Q3 contributors from Memphis for the New York senator included Shelby County Commission member Deidre Malone and developer Jason Wexler, among others.

Part of the Q3 donations from Memphis bagged by the Clinton camp also came from a private fundraiser in September at the East Memphis home of Caryn and Rudi Scheidt, a $1,000-per-person affair attended by former president Bill Clinton.

McCain picked up financial support from a slew of prominent Memphians - attorney Arnold Perl; FedEx executives Alan Graf and David Bronczek; as well as Jack and Ronald Belz, among others.

In March, the McCain team added Rhodes College associate economics professor Teresa Beckham Gramm to its ranks as a senior economic adviser. FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith is another prominent McCain booster.

Former New York City mayor and Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani collected a little more than $11,000 from Memphis supporters, with former North Carolina senator and Democratic hopeful John Edwards pulling in about $1,000 less than that.

Edwards was another frontrunner who visited Memphis recently, making the city a stop on his "Road to One America Tour," designed to highlight issues related to poverty.

"Some of you have heard me talk in the past about the two different Americas - man, I'm here to tell you we got two different Americas," Edwards told a friendly audience that heard him speak in July at the thrift store of the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA).

Barack Obama, the U.S. senator from Illinois and one of the handful of Democratic frontrunners, bagged more Memphis contributions than Giuliani and Romney combined. His grand total, $6,933, included donations from Memphians including Riverfront Development Corp. spokesperson Dorchelle Spence and Barbara Hyde of the Hyde Family Foundation philanthropy group.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, one of the middle-tier Republican candidates, pulled in 17 Memphis-area contributions totaling a little more than $4,800.