Durham investigated for alleged campaign finance violations

At the request of the state Attorney General’s Office, the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance board decided Wednesday to look into whether state Rep. Jeremy Durham misappropriated money meant from his campaign finance account, reports WPLN.

The claim is that Durham diverted $2,000 from his campaign account last year and used it to pay the bills for his struggling title company, Battleground Title and Escrow. Durham is also accused of trying to cover up the transaction by reporting the money had been paid to an aide named Benton Smith for political work.

But Smith says in an affidavit that’s not true. He quit working for Durham and took his concerns to Attorney General Herbert Slatery.

The attorney general also obtained a screenshot of text messages between Durham and Smith that seemed to confirm the transaction took place. After looking at the evidence, the attorney general handed it over this week to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance violations.

Registry members voted unanimously to open an investigation immediately. The Registry plans to subpoena records going back to 2013 to see if there are other such transactions.

Chairman Tom Lawless says the claim campaign money was used for private business is serious.

“That’s something that shouldn’t be happening,” he says. “But there may be a perfectly good explanation. We only have an affidavit of one person. Representative Durham, again, as I said, he’s presumed innocent.”

For his part, Durham calls the story “complete garbage” and says no campaign money ever went into his title company.