Tag Archives: disclosure

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.
More from Mike Donila:
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.”

Burchett, Democratic Leader Talk on Campaign Disclosure Woes

The leader of the Knox County Democratic Party tells Mike Donila that her organization will hold off calling a special meeting to discuss Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s campaign financial reports and instead will give him a chance to investigate why the documents included misstatements and didn’t list thousands in expenditures.
“He made a promise to me that he is committed to getting to the bottom of this and resolving the discrepancies in his financial report,” said Gloria Johnson, the party’s chairwoman.
Johnson said she spoke with the mayor on Tuesday, a day after she said the group would call a special meeting to discuss the reports.
“At this point, there won’t be a meeting,” she said. “We’ll wait and see what the facts actually are. Mayor Burchett says he’ll resolve this and we’ll trust him to resolve this, but we’re still going to be paying close attention to it.”
She said the two did not discuss a timeframe for when the mayor would know more.

Previous post HERE.

Burchett, Wife Dispute Blame for Unreported Campaign Spending

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s wife wrote six checks to herself totaling $15,053.56 from his mayoral election fund that were not included on the campaign finance disclosure statements as required by law.
Further excerpts from Mike Donila’s thorough report:
Some of the biggest checks were written right after the August 2010 general election and carried notations that said they were “reimbursements,” although specific information was not noted.
In addition, Allison Burchett wrote two other unrecorded checks to: Dean Rice, the mayor’s chief of staff and former campaign manager, for $550.45; and Pilot Travel Centers, for $1,354.64.
At the same time, she listed expenses on the disclosure statements as being larger than the checks that actually were written. She also listed a $4,250 expense for a company that said it did no work for the Burchett campaign.
Allison Burchett, who filed for divorce in late April, said her husband directed her at the time to make changes and to not record some of the payments. Tim Burchett denied the accusations.
“All I was doing was what I was told to do,” Allison Burchett said, adding that “all of this was completely foreign to me.”
“I was in no way responsible for, or in charge of, his campaign account,” she said. “I simply did exactly what Tim told me to do, paid who he told me to pay, and disclosed what he told me to disclose. Ultimately, Tim is the one who signs the report and swears it to be true.”
The mayor said his wife oversaw the campaign finances and “it was my job to win the election.” He said he wasn’t aware of any discrepancies until they were pointed out to him by the News Sentinel last week.
“She was in charge of the account,” he said.
…The eight unrecorded checks, provided to the News Sentinel under the promise that the source remain anonymous, were written and cashed between March 16, 2010, and Jan. 9, 2012.

Expenses don’t line up
It was not unusual for the mayor’s wife to write checks to herself, although much of the time she recorded reasons for the expenses on the disclosure statements.
For example, Allison Burchett wrote herself a check for $2,334.42 in April 2010 for what was listed as “Label Industries” on election finance forms. A month later she wrote herself a check for $2,837.41 for what was listed as campaign signs.
In July of that year, she wrote herself a $4,250 check for what was listed as campaign advertising by a business identified as “Singulaiis,” an apparent misspelling of a political advertising firm called Singularis, which has the Kansas address listed on the disclosure form. Asked about that expense, Tim Burchett said he did not remember if the campaign had used a company called Singularis but that it might have.
A company representative told the News Sentinel that it has no record of doing business with the mayor.
Allison Burchett also wrote checks to reimburse herself for items that were listed as “mailings” and “printings” on the campaign disclosure forms.
There are, however, three instances in which checks were written to businesses but the expenses on the campaign disclosure report were recorded as more than what the signed checks reflected.
Those differences, which occurred in mid and late 2010, accounted for $2,400 in additional expenses that weren’t actually paid.
In one case, the campaign wrote a check for $512.46 to “Burns Mailing and Printing” for “palm cards,” but the finance report, which Allison Burchett filled out, reflects a $1,512.46 cost. Another time the campaign wrote a check to Pilot Travel to cover $587.28 in “auto expenses,” but the finance report lists the charges as $1,587.28.
A third time, the campaign reported a $434.16 donation for “Salvation Army (flood relief)” but the check was written for $34.16.
Many of the expenses listed on the disclosure statements do not have any corresponding checks from the campaign account.

On Assets and Travels of Congressmen Cohen, Fincher, Blackburn

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen could have as much as $5.08 million in assets, drew a state pension of $23,128, and traveled to Rwanda, Germany, Israel and Spain at someone else’s expense last year, according to a disclosure that’s the subject of a Commercial Appeal report today.
All members of Congress are required to file an annual description of their assets, liabilities, outside positions on boards, compensated travel and other financial information each May 15. The reports do not include their annual $174,000 salaries as members.
Among Mid-South members, U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., whose district will include even more of Shelby County next year, reported $33,943 in income from row crop farming and paid-for trips to Israel and Los Angeles. In addition, he and his wife, Lynn, own farm land worth between $500,000 and $1 million but have outstanding debts from the purchase of equipment of between $795,000 and $1.7 million.
…U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., whose district will no longer encompass parts of Greater Memphis next year because of redistricting, received a $4,202 state pension for service in the legislature and reported she could have as much as $660,000 in assets. She has mortgages on property in Brentwood, Tenn. Blackburn’s travel paid for by others included trips to Vienna, Austria; Palm Beach; Las Vegas; Dallas; and Hilton Head, S.C

Radio Ad Targets Alexander, Corker on Campaign Finance Disclosure

News release from League of Women Voters
Nashville, TN – The League of Women Voters today launched a radio ad campaign urging Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Bob Corker to step up and lead on the vital issue of disclosure and campaign finance reform. The ad, “Flood of Money,” encourages the Senators to help bring sunshine and disclosure to the secret money pouring into American elections.
The 60-second spot is intended to educate and inform Tennessee citizens about the tidal wave of secret money flowing into election campaigns. “Voters should have the right to know who is financing ads relevant to elections.  Currently, unlike candidates, corporations, unions, lobbyists, and special interest groups are not required to acknowledge that the ads reflect their personal opinion,” said Margie Parsley, state President of the League of Women Voters.
“It is very frustrating as a voter, lacking the knowledge of the funding source, to trust the information,” Parsley said. “We hope the League of Women Voter’s radio ads in Tennessee will lead to an informed discuss about disclosure laws.” 
The ad calls on the Senators to, “Tell us you’ll let the sunshine in. Tell us you support full disclosure.”

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Candidate Didn’t Disclose Enough on First Disclosure

Republican congressional candidate Ron Bhalla, a Chattanooga businessman running in the 3rd District, appears to be in violation of federal campaign finance law, reports Chris Carroll. He calls it an innocent mistake.
On April 14, Bhalla submitted his first campaign finance report to the Federal Election Commission.
Late Friday, Bhalla’s 11-page report included just one expenditure — a $14,145 lump-sum disbursement to himself without any additional information. Federal Election Commission regulations require candidates to provide “a brief but specific description” of every campaign expenditure.
…Campaign treasurer and Hixson accountant Bob Palmer said Bhalla filed the report himself.
“I don’t know anything about this,” Palmer said. “I thought he’d start giving me some things to keep track of, but I haven’t seen him.”
Bhalla promised to itemize his expenses this week.
“I was totally unaware of this,” he said.
FEC spokesman Christian Hilland declined to comment on Bhalla’s case, citing agency policy. But he said the commission’s reports analysis division looks into “issues of potential noncompliance.”

Planning Commissioners Required to File Ethics Disclosures

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The House has given final approval to a bill requiring local and regional planning commissioners to file interest disclosures with the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
The House voted 88-2 Thursday to pass the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Gotto of Nashville. The measure would require the state’s estimated 3,000 planning commissioners to submit the same disclosure requirements as many other public officials.
The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate last month.
The disclosure law already applies to most state and local officials. According to the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, more than 7,500 officials have filed disclosure forms since the beginning of the year.
While several Republicans raised concerns about the bill in House committee, there was no debate about the measure on the floor Thursday.

Ethics Disclosure for Planning Commissions Draws Objections

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill seeking to require local and regional planning commissioners to file interest disclosures with the Tennessee Ethics Commission was met with last-minute resistance in the House on Thursday.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Gotto, R-Nashville, would subject the state’s estimated 3,000 planning commissioners to the same disclosure requirements as elected officials. The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate last month.
“This is simply an attempt to try to have more transparency and more information available to the public about those unelected officials that have great control over what happens in their communities,” Gotto told the House Calendar Committee.
But House Finance Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, questioned if the change would present a significant cost increase to the state and tried to move the bill back to a subcommittee for fiscal analysis.

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ALEC Disclosure Bill Killed at Urging of ALEC Board Member

Democratic efforts to require lawmakers to disclose what special interests are proposing the “model legislation” members often introduce died in a party-line vote last week in Republican-run House subcommittee, according to Andy Sher (a piece of a political notebook)..
“This is a bad bill … horrible bill, really,” Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, said during the House State and Local Government Subcommittee meeting. “I know what it’s getting back at. It’s getting back at ALEC.”
ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national group of businesses and conservative legislators from across the U.S. Critics say the group is really a front that gives large corporations a big hand in writing bills introduced in dozens of states in areas ranging from anti-teacher union measures to voting.
Todd is a board member.
The disclosure bill’s sponsor, Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said it “does not particularly talk about ALEC” and noted it also would affect groups like the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. “It’s just good disclosure to know where these bills come from.”
Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, also defended the bill, saying, “All it does is tell us the source.”
The bill (HB2301) died on a voice vote
. (But all three Democrats on the panel – Reps. Tommie Brown, Larry Miller and Mike Turner – had themselves officially recorded as voting yes, which more or less leaves all the panel’s voice-voting Republicans as official no votes.)

Bill Haslam ‘Borrowed’ Ernie’s Ethics

Satirist Scott McNutt lampoons Bill Haslam, Ernie and Bill Gibbons in a Sunday piece that starts like this:
Gov. Bill Haslam recently revealed that a story he often tells about his wife’s high school boyfriend, “Ernie,” was “borrowed” from another politician — possibly former President Bill Clinton. Now, he says his administration’s standards of openness and transparency are borrowed, too.
Haslam has long warmed up audiences with a story about meeting Ernie, the former boyfriend who’s now a convenience store clerk. The punchline is that Ernie would now be governor if Crissy Haslam had married him instead of Haslam.
At a press conference last week, after refusing to divulge details of his personal finances, Haslam admitted that the standards of openness and transparency his administration has claimed to hold are actually those of “Ernie,” if Ernie had become governor.
In 2009, Haslam released a summary of his income for 2003-2008, excluding that derived from Pilot (all his investments save his Pilot-Flying J holdings are now in a blind trust). But last week, the governor declined to reveal current information, saying, “Any commitment I made to open government wasn’t my personal commitment.”
“You lied about it?” asked a reporter.
“I borrowed it,” the governor answered. “My administration’s commitment to transparency, and in fact, any vow or claim of integrity I may have made are really Ernie’s.”
When it was pointed out that Haslam had already admitted stealing “Ernie” from Bill Clinton, Haslam replied, “That’s right, and we all know Clinton’s ‘openness’ depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is. So my secrecy about my income ‘is’ his fault.”
Haslam then said when he issued an executive order calling for more openness in state government on his first day in office, it was what Ernie would have done. However, when Haslam signed another order allowing him and his top aides to reveal fewer details of their private incomes than their predecessors, he was pretty sure that was him, not Ernie. He added that he frequently confuses the two.
“Given these revelations, governor, is there anything at all authentic about your commitment to openness?” another reporter asked.
“Probably not, because I seem to have left it in the blind trust with my non-Pilot investments,” Haslam replied. “Still, my insincerity is genuine.”