Cash for Clout: Who’s funding Tennessee’s politics?

A user-friendly tool to track political spending in Tennessee

By: - Monday July 24, 2023 12:01 pm

Cash for Clout: Who’s funding Tennessee’s politics?

A user-friendly tool to track political spending in Tennessee

By: - 12:01 pm

(Photo illustration by John Partipilo)

(Photo illustration by John Partipilo)

This story was last updated on Oct. 26, 2023.

Every year millions of dollars flow to Nashville, flooding the halls of Tennessee’s state capitol as a small number of deep-pocketed groups attempt to influence lawmakers.

The money comes in many streams through different legal channels, all aiming to influence regulations, push for tax breaks and secure government contracts, often to further private interests instead of the public. The Tennessee Lookout, relying on publicly filed lobbying and campaign finance reports, created a tool to search Tennessee’s top political spenders and recipients.

This tool allows users to discover who’s spending the most cash to influence lawmakers and different ways groups spend money to gain influence. Explore the top donors to every current lawmaker and the politicians raking in the most money.

More than 29,000 companies, people and political associations have donated at least $100 to Tennessee’s current crop of elected officials, their affiliated political action committees (PAC) and the political party PACs

To start use the search tool below to see who’s giving the most to a politician or caucus (search “Bill Lee” or “Tennessee Democratic Caucus”) or see who’s receiving the most from a company or person (enter “FedEx” or “Boyd, Randy”).

All the information in this article comes from the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance and relies on self-reporting by companies and individuals. If you want to contest any data in this story, email [email protected]

Then let’s move onto the leading political spenders in four categories:

  • Top overall spending since 2009
  • Leading lobbyist during the 2021-22 Tennessee General Assembly
  • Top political donor in 2022
  • The organization leading the way in independent expenditures backing candidates 

Next is the club of 193 companies, families and associations that have each spent more than $1 million on a combination of lobbying, donations and independent expenditures since 2009.

To view the full list of groups that have spent over $1 million since 2009 click here. 

Have a tip on how money is influencing decisions at the Tennessee Capitol? Send an email to [email protected]. For encrypting messaging, text 615-249-8509 on Signal, or call the same number.

Then, let’s move on to the politicians and a few of the groups choosing sides in Tennessee politics.

Finally, return to Tennessee’s current crop of elected officials, how much money they have raised and their top 10 donors.



The underlying data for this story comes from a lobbying report database and a campaign finance report database maintained by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. To create the top donor list, the Lookout combined spending from three categories — lobbying, campaign donations and independent expenditures.

Lobbying expenditures are provided in ranges. For example, when the report said $10,000 to $25,000, the Lookout used $17,500 for the amount spent. When the report said less than $10,000, $1,000 was used.

For campaign donations, the Lookout has tracked contributions to every candidate and political action committee connected to a candidate since 2009.

Contributions to candidates and their PACs were combined when reporting how much they raised. At times candidates and their PACs would give to other candidates. We removed all donations from elected officials to their party PACs (Tennessee Legislative Campaign Committee and Tennessee Tomorrow PAC) because often those donations were reimbursements for campaign mailers.

We also removed all self-donations involved in the 2018 gubernatorial race because Gov. Bill Lee and candidates Randy Boyd, Diana Black and Karl Dean donated a significant amount of personal money to each of their campaigns.

Independent expenditures were also reported as part of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance campaign database under expenditures. We used a similar method for donations to compile a complete spending list.

Several companies, associations and families used multiple political action committees or changed their company name since 2009. The Lookout combined all the names it could find for a single company, family or association. For mergers, all of a past company’s campaign finance data were merged together under the new company’s name.

The data behind this story is also available to download:

This is the link to the completely unedited campaign finance database, which contains over 1.9 million rows of data (from Jan. 1, 2009 to June 30, 2023). (369 MB)

This is the link to an edited form of campaign finance data, which includes merged company names and tracks donations directly to lawmakers or those who ran for office from Jan. 1, 2009 to June 30, 2023. (24.8 MB)

The Lookout’s lobbying expenditures data (from Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2022) is available for download by clicking here. (3.3 MB)

Click here for the data on independent expenditures (from Jan. 1. 2009 to June 30, 2023). (0.3 MB)

Click here for the link to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance campaign finance website.

Click here for the link to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance lobbying website.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Adam Friedman
Adam Friedman

Adam Friedman is a reporter with the Tennessee Lookout. He has a particular love for data and using numbers to explain all kinds of topics. If you have a story idea, he'd love to hear it. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 615-249-8509.