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VOL. 41 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 31, 2017

Newspaper finds double dipping among Tennessee lawmakers

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NASHVILLE (AP) — A newspaper analysis has found that Tennessee lawmakers drew thousands of dollars from their campaign funds for expenses that may have been covered by their allowances for meals, travel and housing when they are serving at the state Capitol.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/2nPse1V) reviewed all campaign finance reports filed in 2016 by members of the state House and Senate. The paper found that 55 lawmakers used more than $84,000 in campaign funds to buy items like food and gas on the same days they received about $31,800 total in per diem and mileage reimbursements from the Legislature.

"What you're talking about is double dipping," said David Shepard, a former Democratic lawmaker from Dickson. "When you decide to run for office, you know what the pay is, you know what the circumstances are."

An additional $190,000 in campaign money was spent on expenses that may have been paid for by state funds. But lawmakers are not required to report specific dates and locations for items under $100. That makes it uncertain how many of those purchases may have also been reimbursed by the state.

There is no formal procedure in state law to ensure lawmakers are not double dipping.

"There needs to be some way to review current practices and see if it's a repeated problem or one or two people out there," said Gov. Bill Haslam.

Lawmakers receive an annual salary of $22,667 and are eligible for another $12,000 to cover expenses in their home districts. They also receive $220 each day they are at the Capitol on official business. While that per diem is meant to cover hotel, food and other incidentals, there is no requirement for lawmakers for submit itemized expenses.

The newspaper's analysis comes after an audit by the Tennessee Registry of Campaign Finance found that expelled state Rep. Jeremy Durham failed to report more than $36,000 in contributions and more than $51,000 in expenditures.

The alleged reporting violations were detailed in a February letter to Durham, a Franklin Republican who lost his re-election bid last year following an attorney general's report that detailed a series of claims of sexual harassment. The letter said Durham did not properly itemize nearly $76,000 in other expenses, including a total of more than $3,000 at Puckett's barbeque restaurant; $2,300 at the Franklin City Club; and $805 at Morton's steak house.

Durham has until May 1 to respond in writing to the Registry's findings.

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Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com