Election registry takes no action against Burchett

Friday, October 19, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 42

NASHVILLE (AP) - The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance has decided not to penalize Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett for discrepancies in his campaign filings.

Burchett's attorney, Stephen Zralek, appeared before the panel on Tuesday to explain how the errors were made and the efforts the former Republican state senator has made to fix the mistakes.

Zralek blamed most of the errors on Burchett's ex-wife, Allison.

"He takes ultimate responsibility for complying with the law," Zralek said. "Like of us, though, he trusted those who are closest to him. And who's closer to you than your spouse?"

Zralek urged the registry to "be lenient with the mayor," and the panel unanimously agreed to take no further action. Neither the mayor nor his ex-wife attended the meeting.

The complaint was based on reports by The Knoxville News Sentinel about questionable spending, including payments of more than $15,000 to Allison Burchett. She to ld the newspaper she acted at the mayor's direction.

The panel also decided on a 4-2 vote against proceeding with an investigation into whether health care investor Andrew Miller used his political action committee as a conduit to exceed the $1,400 per election limit on individual donations to a single campaign

Registry records showed Miller's $71,000 were the lone contributions to the Truth Matters PAC, which gave money to 10 candidates who had mostly already received the individual maximum from Miller before the Aug. 2 primary.

Miller said he had commitments from several other donors, but that they didn't submit their checks until after the vote.

"In hindsight there was certainly a better way to do this," said Miller's attorney, James Weaver. "But the fact that there's a better way to do it, doesn't mean that it's an illegal conduit."

Weaver argued that Miller had no intent to circumvent the rules.

"With all due respect, if you were going to do a conduit, you wouldn't do it like this," Weaver said.

Board member Henry Fincher, a former Democratic state representative who voted against setting the investigation aside, said he worried about the precedent of the panel's actions.

"In this case we have a nice guy who is participating in the process, who is not trying to evade our laws," Fincher said. "But what happens when the next guy or gal is not so nice and is looking at this, and says 'Well, Andy Miller did it. Why can't I?"