TN Supreme Court justices give generously to Democratic candidates, records show


By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — The three Tennessee Supreme Court justices up for retention like to give lots of money to Democrats, including Phil Bredesen, who appointed all three to the court, and even Al Gore.

Tennessee Forum President Susan Kaestner announced Thursday she and members of her nonprofit organization had closely scrutinized the justices’ personal campaign contributions — ranging in the thousands of dollars — most of which went to Democrats.

Additionally, Kaestner released an email she said originated with the Davidson County Democrat Party urging Democrats to vote to retain justices Gary Wade, Connie Clark and Sharon Lee.

Susan Kaestner

“Remember when Democrats don’t vote, Republicans are elected and we ALWAYS support the Democratic ticket!” reads an email Kaestner attributes to party chair Gary D. Bynum.

Tennessee Watchdog couldn’t independently verify the contents of the email as no one at the Davidson County Democrat Party immediately returned our message Thursday.

The three justices are currently crisscrossing the state repeating the mantra that politics and money have no place tainting the Aug. 7 retention election or their ability to independently interpret the law.

The race, the three justices have said many times over, must remain nonpartisan.

As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, Tennessee Forum officials say the three justices’ values no longer reflect those of red state Tennesseans and they don’t deserve retention.

“I think it’s really important for voters to know that each of these judges did contribute to Phil Bredesen’s campaign for governor and then were appointed to the court,” Kaestner told Tennessee Watchdog Thursday. “That’s the kind of thing that suggests cronyism and partisan political activity.”

Chief Justice Gary Wade

Kaestner said a review of state and federal campaign finance records turned up the following:

  • Clark has given $5,435 to political candidates over the years. About 80 percent of those donations have gone to Democrats, including former Democratic Senate Speaker John Wilder, former Senate Democrat Caucus Chairman Joe Haynes and former State Rep. Rob Briley. The candidate receiving the largest total contributions from Clark was Bredesen. Clark’s time on the Tennessee Democrat Party Executive Committee doesn’t help her nonpartisan credentials, Kaestner added.
  • Wade has donated more than 70 percent of his money, at least $27,311, to Democrat candidates, including former Vice President Gore, former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., current Democrat Party chair Roy Herron and the Democratic National Committee. Wade also gave at least $3,000 to Bredesen, according to the Tennessee Forum.
  • Lee gave more than $8,000, and 92 percent of that went to Democrats, including Harold Ford, Jr., 2010 Democrat gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter and Herron. Lee gave Bredesen’s campaign more than $3,000, according to the Tennessee Forum.

The justices’ campaign representatives, Carol Andrews, Victoria McCullough and Brenda Gadd, as well as members of Keep Tennessee’s Supreme Court Fair, didn’t immediately return requests for comment Thursday.

Tennessee Watchdog reported last week the Tennessee Democratic Party accepted nearly $5,000 from the three justices for voter contact services, according to online campaign finance records.

Also, as previously reported, all three of the justices gave nearly $12,000 overall for professional services to McCullough, whom Tennessee Watchdog previously identified as having strong partisan ties to President Obama.

AP file photo

SOROS: The liberal magnate is jumping into the Tennessee Supreme Court judges retention race.

McCullough worked for Obama’s White House doing public engagement from 2011-2013 and was a regional field director for Obama for America from 2007-2008, according to LinkedIn.

Lee and Clark, records show, gave a combined $7,500 to campaign manager Gadd, also identified by Tennessee Watchdog as someone with strong Democratic Party ties.

Justice At Stake, funded by left-wing activist and billionaire George Soros, has involved itself in the retention election on the justices’ behalves.

Contact Christopher Butler at or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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