Probe of Burchett Campaign Finance Doings Sought

University of Tennessee professor Mark Harmon on Wednesday asked the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance to launch an investigation into a number of questionable campaign finance statements filed by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.
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In an email to the bureau’s executive director, Drew Rawlins, the former county commissioner cites a number of recent News Sentinel articles that detail accounting discrepancies in the mayor’s campaign reports. He notes Burchett “signed off on the veracity” of the statements, and asks state officials to look into the issue “expeditiously before memories fade, documents are lost, or the document retention deadline expires.”
Harmon’s request comes a day after the Knox County Democratic Party opted not to look into the matter or make its own request to the state. The party’s chairwoman, Gloria Johnson, said she had spoken to Burchett and the organization was willing to let him look into the discrepancies first.
Harmon, a journalism teacher who served on the commission from 2006-10, said “I thought it would be better to have answers than to have lingering questions,” so he submitted his request on Wednesday.
Rawlins was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
The bureau’s counsel, John Allyn, said Harmon would probably be asked to fill out a sworn complaint available online before investigators could move forward.
From there, Allyn said, a six-member board comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans would meet in Nashville on Aug. 8 to discuss the issue. The registry of election finance would then decide whether to issue the mayor a “show cause” letter, which would require him to explain how the errors occurred and to fix them if possible.
Allyn said often the registry lets candidates “resolve matters by amending the report and clear up the record if they don’t have a major item.”
“If it’s something extreme, then no amount of amending will change it,” he said.
Allyn said if Burchett receives a show cause letter then he would have until Sept. 12 to submit information or write the registry, letting members know how and why misstatements occurred. The board would then decide whether to dismiss any issues or assess a civil penalty, which can be as much as $10,000 per offense.
“I can assure you that no one wants to clear this up more than I do, but it’s (Harmon’s) prerogative to ask them to look into it,” the mayor said. “But I find it very odd that the News Sentinel found out about this before I have been officially notified.”

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