Report lists Tre Hargett promotion efforts at taxpayer expenses

Phil Williams reviews several taxpayer-funded efforts that could be seen as political promotions for Secretary of State Tre Hargett in a report on WTVF-TV.

Seems Hargett issued his recent statement declaring that he’s not running for governor (previous post HERE) two days after Williams interviewed him for the report, televised Tuesday.

Williams reports the cost to taxpayers of printing new ‘I voted’ stickers with Hargett’s name prominently displayed as $6,885. (Previous post HERE.) Hargett now says that was a mistake.

The veteran politician claimed that it never occurred to him that the Tre Hargett stickers would look political.

“I think where I missed the mark, frankly, Phil, I wasn’t looking through a political lens,” Hargett said.

We asked, “So you’re saying this was a mistake?”

“I’m saying we missed the mark,” he responded, later adding: “I should not have put my name on it.”

Other Hargett moves that could be seen as enhancing his name recognition for a future political endeavor include his picture on the state’s voter registration website and election night tweets from his office on state political race results from “via @SecTreHargett” — which links back to Tre Hargett’s personal Twitter account.

That account, Hargett acknowledged, is maintained with the help of a state employee again at taxpayer expense. That employee’s salary: $33,000 a year.

…Inside Department of State’s offices, you’ll also find Tre Hargett’s face in framed photos and Tre Hargett’s name printed on the walls. There are also Tre Hargett pamphlets and Tre Hargett pencils.

And every single employee’s business card has to be printed with, you guessed it, Tre Hargett’s name on top.

…There are also Tre Hargett lapel pins — thousands of them — also produced at taxpayer expense. Total cost: $6,647.

…(The Secretary of State’s) also publishes the Tennessee Blue Book, but Tre Hargett’s name on the cover wasn’t enough. So Tre Hargett had Tre Hargett bookmarks printed. In fact, we counted Tre Hargett’s name five times!

“So why should your name be on there five times?” NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

“That does seem like a lot,” he acknowledged. “That’s another thing that we need to look at through the political lens and try and figure out could we do better.”

Then, there are the big lottery-style checks that Hargett delivers to libraries around the state. Even though an independent board decides who gets the grants, the fake checks are signed “Tre Hargett” — also at taxpayer expense.

Total cost for those big checks this year alone: $1,215.

…”It’s really about shining the light on the great work that those libraries and archives are doing. I certainly am not trying to claim credit.”

Just like some Tre Hargett portfolio and Tre Hargett cups that he bought with old campaign funds, critics question if all this Tre Hargett stuff might be the beginning of another Tre Hargett campaign.

In fact, our investigation discovered that, on and off, between the fall of 2012 and the early part of this year, Hargett put a friend on the state’s payroll as his director of policy. Dennis Berwyn is a political consultant from North Carolina.

“He was not a political hire. In his job description nor his title did he do political work,” the secretary of state said.

Berwyn would fly in on Mondays, leave on Thursdays, getting paid as much as $6,000 a month without benefits. Among his projects: a Tre Hargett newsletter and a PR campaign called Tennessee Business Spotlight — also sponsored by Tre Hargett.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “Where does it say that the secretary of state needs to do a Tennessee Business Spotlight?”… (Hargett) said that it was just an effort to shine the spotlight on some good Tennessee businesses.

As for the man behind the campaign, it turns out he’s also the registered owner of the Internet domain HargettForGovernor.com.