Of the more than $1.1 million in contributions received by Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's campaign for re-election this cycle, a single contribution of $5,000 represents only a small fraction.
But for Fleischmann's Democratic opponent Mary Headrick, the source of the donation is what's important.
Headrick, an acute care physician from Maynardville, criticized Fleischmann this week for accepting a contribution from KochPAC, a political action committee backed by Kansas billionaires who have become a powerful force in funding Republican candidates across the nation. Koch Industries, headed by the brothers Charles and David Koch, is the second-largest privately held company in the country.
In a news release, Headrick suggested the Koch donation reflected the congressman's willingness to be influenced by sources outside the constituents of his own district.
"This is exactly the kind of election-buying I have criticized from the beginning," Headrick said. "And it is exactly the kind that I believe residents of the 3rd District will reject."
When asked to respond, a spokesman for the Fleischmann campaign declined to comment.
Headrick, who has been continually critical of the role of political action committees in campaign finances, made her comments in the wake of a recent Gannett report, which detailed contributions from KochPAC received by GOP members of the Tennessee delegation. According to the report, the group has donated a total of $42,500 to five Tennessee Republicans this year.
Through its PAC, Koch Industries has spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and contributions to predominately Republican candidates. The company focuses the majority of its lobbying on energy issues, with millions more being dedicated to arenas such as defense and financial regulatory reforms.
Headrick said that by accepting funds from KochPAC, the congressman was turning his attention away from the 700,000 constituents in the 3rd District he was elected to represent. The candidate called on Fleischmann to send the donations back.
"I call upon my opponent to return this money," Headrick said. "If he will not, then the voters should know that his votes in Congress will be bought and paid for by people who do not even live in our district."
Fleischmann, who often says his "special interest is the people of the 3rd District," has accepted more than $435,000 in PAC contributions to date. Before being elected to office in 2010, Fleischmann wrote a Red State blog post promising "that special interest groups would not find an open door in my congressional office."
Headrick and Fleischmann are scheduled to meet in a candidate forum in Bradley County on Oct. 8. The election is Nov. 6.
Updated @ 9:25 a.m. on 09/20/12 to correct Fleischmann's last quote in this article. The original quote said that Fleischmann's blog post said that special interest groups would find his door open, but it should have said that special interest groups would not find his door open.