Former presidential candidate Jeb Bush gets top donated dollars in Tri-Cities region

(AP Photo/Mic Smith)
(AP Photo/Mic Smith)

TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL)- News Channel 11 tracked local campaign donations for the 2016 presidential race and found several people in our area donated money to candidates who are no longer in the race for the White House.

Federal Election Commission records show people in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia made more than 4,000 monetary donations to at least eight major presidential candidates during the 2016 election cycle. Records show local philanthropist Scott Niswonger donated the most money to a presidential candidate in our area. Niswonger donated $2,700 to Jeb Bush’s campaign, Jeb 2016, Inc. and nearly $28,000 to super PAC, Right to Rise USA, a political committee that supports Bush.

“I thought his experience would serve us well as president, being a very successful governor in Florida and a personal relationship we had built over several years,” Niswonger said when asked about his donation. “I wanted to invest in the man and I was able to do that and things went the other direction but if I had to do that over again I’d do it all again.” Niswonger is a well-known benefactor in the region and helped found Landair Services and Forward Air Corporation. The companies have annual sales of more than $1 billion today according to Niswonger’s online bio.

Mountain States Health Alliance CEO Alan Levine came in a close second, donating more than $25,000 to support Bush as well. Levine said, “I’ve never written checks that big for a presidential candidate before but I just really believed in him. I still do.” Levine served as Bush’s chief of staff and health secretary in the early-mid 2000s when Bush was governor of Florida. “I had a chance to see him up close and I have tremendous respect for him, the kind of leader he is.”

Tri-Cities residents did not contribute as much money to democratic presidential candidates. Kingsport attorney Rick Spivey made his largest donation to presidential candidate this election season. He contributed $1,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Hillary for America. “I believe she is singularly suited for the job her experience and quite frankly her positions. I’m very [much in agreeance] with her positions. I agree wealthy people should pay more taxes. I am one of the people who would have to pay more taxes but I’m willing to do that,” Spivey said.

Out of the eight presidential candidates we focused on for this report Bush pulled in the most locally donated dollars. His campaign and super PAC collected more than $162,000 from donors in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump came in third, collecting nearly $92,000. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton placed sixth, earning nearly $31,000.

Full Rankings: Candidates who earned the most locally donated money (source: FEC)

1. Jeb Bush $162,109
2. Bernie Sanders $104,579*
3. Donald Trump $91,878
4. Ben Carson $67,342
5. Ted Cruz $66,042
6. Hillary Clinton $30,667
7. Marco Rubio $16,923
8. John Kasich $3,790

Kingsport residents donated the most money to presidential candidates out of all the cities in Northeast Tennessee. City residents made 3,500 donations totaling more than $356,000. In Southwest Virginia, Abingdon residents made nearly 800 donations totaling more than $215,000. FEC records also show companies donated to presidential candidates as well. The United Company in Bristol, Virginia donated $25,000 to Right to Rise USA, a super PAC that supports Jeb Bush. The Eastman PAC of Eastman Chemical Company also donated $15,000 to Right to Rise USA. Roan Mountain Auto Parts in Roan Mountain, Tennessee made a $125 donation to the same super PAC.

You can search for donations made by individual contributors by using the FEC website.

*An individual is limited to a contribution of $2,700 to candidate committees. FEC records News Channel 11 used for this report indicate that some people over-donated to Bernie Sanders. We contacted the FEC, which said committees have 60 days from receiving an excessive contribution to either refund the money or put it towards another candidate or election with the donor’s approval. The FEC records we used for this report were updated through August 2016.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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