UPDATE: Outside PAC ‘Club for Growth’ spends $559,027 supporting Congressional candidate Timothy Hill – majority on TV ad buy

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UPDATE: (WJHL) – A conservative political action committee (PAC) has spent more than $550,000 in an effort to help Tennessee State Representative Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) win the August 6 First Congressional District primary, federal records show.

News Channel 11 first reported that Club for Growth was supporting Hill Friday, a day after the group began running television ads in the district (see below). Hill is among 16 candidates in a crowded primary field that arose after six-term Representative Dr. Phil Roe announced in early January he would retire.

Club for Growth Action, an arm of the Club for Growth PAC — a well-funded group focused on fiscal and economic conservatism that has said it intends to spend at least $35 million this election cycle — paid Sherman Oaks, California-based Target Enterprises LLC $474,500 for a TV ad air buy.

The specific Federal Election Commission (FEC) report that appeared on the FEC website Saturday also showed a $75,000 expenditure to Target Enterprises LLC for digital ad placements.

In addition to those two expenditures, reporting from Club for Growth Action’s Adam Rozansky, signed July 10, shows TV and digital ad production purchases of just more than $9,500 from Delaplane, Virginia-based Warfield and Co.

A smattering of smaller expenses bring the total to $559,027.59.

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(WJHL) – To paraphrase a line from George Orwell’s classic ‘Animal Farm,’ some political endorsements are more equal than others — just ask Tennessee First Congressional District Republican primary candidate Timothy Hill of Blountville.

Tuesday, the nationally prominent Club for Growth endorsed Hill, who is completing his fourth term as a State Representative for the Third House District. Thursday, a related “Super PAC,” Club for Growth Action, released its first television ads supporting Hill.

In the release endorsing Hill, Club for Growth PAC President David McIntosh praised Hill’s “consistent record of fighting for economic conservatism and limited government.”

As of Thursday, Hill was one of 23 Republican U.S. House of Representatives candidates endorsed on the Club for Growth’s website. The organization bills itself as “the leading free-enterprise advocacy group in the nation” and claims to “have an enormous influence on economic policy.”

Hill told News Channel 11 Friday he was grateful for both the endorsement and the support of the PAC, and said the Club’s support showed he was “the true conservative” in the race.

“My state house district has allowed me to be that conservative, I’m grateful for that,” Hill said. “Then these couple of national groups have come in and recognized that and recognized that of the candidates that are in the race I’m very different, and they’ve chosen to come on board and I’m very grateful.”

Timothy Hill, right, listens to a Lions Club member in Bristol July 10.

The entry of so-called “independent expenditures” into the crowded primary is certainly aimed at shaking up the race, Knoxville political consultant Ryan Burrell said.

Burrell’s Spry Strategies conducted a poll of the Congressional race June 21-24 that showed Hill in third place at 11.3 percent. Diana Harshbarger, a Kingsport pharmacist, led at 22.4 percent.

“It doesn’t surprise me that they got in and it definitely doesn’t surprise me that they endorsed Timothy,” Burrell said of the Club for Growth.

He said he believes there is some ideological diversity among the candidates, and added that Hill has built a relationship over the years with the Club for Growth.

“Timothy to me is a pretty well-rounded conservative,” Burrell said. “He doesn’t bend, and he’s young. I think that may have been attractive for them as well.”

A search of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) website didn’t yet show specific data on the Club for Growth PAC’s spending in the First District.

Burrell called the endorsement and the ad spend “a big deal for (Hill). I (said) early on, if he gets some funding he’s going to be dangerous.

“Of course it’s not direct funding, but he’ll certainly be having some beautiful mail dropped with his picture on it, just the Club for Growth logo I would imagine.”

Hill suggested the same about the Club for Growth endorsement, another from the House Freedom Caucus, and certainly any publicity that his campaign isn’t paying for — or affiliated with in any way according to the FEC rules that govern independent expenditures.

“What it ultimately does is, it levels the playing field between people that are self-funders and people that are putting all this money into a campaign, which is well within their right to do,” Hill said.

This screenshot shows the end of a TV ad paid for by the Club for Growth political action committee supporting Timothy Hill in the Tennessee First Congressional District GOP Primary

“I’m just a regular guy, and so when someone comes in and says ‘he is exactly as advertised, he’s as conservative as he says he is’ and they decide to put support behind that, that’s a good thing, it’s humbling.”

So what exactly is an “IE?”

An independent expenditure (IE), according to the FEC website, “is an expenditure for a communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and which is not made in coordination with any candidate, or his or her authorized committees or agents, or a political party committee or its agents.”

Independent expenditures, which usually flow through so-called “Super PACS,” “are not subject to contribution limits,” the FEC site says.

Super PACs have been widely criticized as “dark money” that have a negative impact on the American political process. According to the Center for Responsive Politics “Open Secrets” website, Super PACs “may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.”

As of Friday, Club for Growth Action, which paid for the first TV ad, had not yet reported any expenditures to support Hill or to oppose any candidate in the race. The PAC doesn’t shy away from throwing money into ads and direct mail to oppose candidates, though.

For instance, it has spent more than $250,000 in less than four weeks opposing Katherine Dubeau Landing in her bid to win the Republican primary for South Carolina’s First Congressional District. Nancy Mace won that June 9 primary with 58 percent of the vote, while Landing was second at 26 percent.

As for the separation between a candidate and a Super PAC, Burrell said, “the laws are very gray, but an organization like Club for Growth is going to have one of the best campaign finance lawyers in D.C.”

Club for Growth President McIntosh said he was confident that in Congress, Hill would “be a principled leader on key issues like reducing government spending, cutting taxes, and fighting for term limits.”

Why spend in a safe seat?

Hill said he believes the Club for Growth is willing to spend in a seat that’s almost certain not to go Democrat based on its ideology.

“The question is not ultimately whether the First Congressional District will be Republican,” Hill said. “It’s will we be conservative, and that’s where those endorsements, that’s where those groups are coming in and saying, ‘hey, we think we can make a difference, Timothy has demonstrated that he’s conservative.’”

Pointing back to his comment about ideological diversity in the First District field, Burrell said something similar.

“Phil Roe is a little bit more moderate than certainly Timothy, so it’s interesting, the Club for Growth is instinctually going quite a bit further right of center.”

Club for Growth’s website notes that it is focused on conservative economic policy and doesn’t take positions on social issues or the immigration debate.

A June 25 article in “The Hill” by Tal Axelrod titled “Club for Growth unleashes financial juggernaut for 2020 races” noted that the Club plans to send at least $35 million this election cycle after raising $55 million this year.

Axelrod’s article said the spending was part of a plan “to back its endorsees with a wave of advertising or by tearing down their competitors.” The first ads run for Hill are positive ads touting his bona fide conservatism.

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