The KNS reports today that former County Commissioner Mark Harmon has requested the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance to investigate irregularities in Knox Co. Mayor Tim Burchett's campaign finance disclosures reported by the KNS.
The KNS previously reported that local Democratic Party officials would meet to discuss possible action on the discrepancies reported by the KNS, but then later reported that Burchett had assured party chair Gloria Johnson he would get the matter resolved.
On the Wednesday and Friday before the KNS article was published (around the time the KNS had first contacted campaign officials about the discrepancies) Burchett campaign treasurer Albert Miller filed amended reports listing additional expenditures. Some are listed as "reimbursements" for campaign expenses with no backup (including a $550.45 payment to Burchett's now chief of staff Dean Rice listed as "reimbursement for campaign expenses such as HQ supplies and campaign meals" and others with no notation other than "reimbursement").
According to comments here at KnoxViews by KNS Editorial page/community voices coordinator Scott Barker (we assume it is him although the comment is made under an anonymous unregistered profile), state law requires campaigns to report the names of vendors receiving payment for allowable campaign expenditures, and simply stating "reimbursement" is not allowed.
Anyway, the reporting on this story has been about as sloppy as the campaign bookkeeping. It starts with an anonymous source for the cancelled checks, and both the mayor and his former campaign bookkeeper and wife deny having possession of the records (which the campaign is required to keep for two years after an election). There has been no official statement from the campaign treasurer. Who are they accusing of what? The mayor? His wife?
The articles state that campaign finance law requires checks to be reported on disclosures, which is misleading. Expenditures (i.e. expenses) must be reported, not the method of payment. The KNS reporting conflates the two, creating confusion. The KNS has not said if they asked for receipts or credit card statements to back up the expenditures, or if they matched reported expenditures to bank statements and canceled check amounts to determine if they add up.
The timing is suspicious as well. The revelations were made just weeks before the campaign record retention period expires, and just as the mayor and his wife are concluding a messy divorce involving allegations that his wife said would be revealed at trial if it wasn't settled.
Not knowing who provided KNS with the information or their motivation makes it difficult to judge what is really going on. There are plenty of wild accusations and conspiracy theories, though. One is that the KNS is getting back at Burchett for not going along with the school budget increase they advocated for. Another is that the mayor's ex-wife is trying to damage him politically out of spite or whatever. This is what you get when less than transparent reporting leaves the public to make up their own stories.
If there's any meat to the story, though, it's the expenditures listed with amounts $1000 greater than the checks written to pay for them. The KNS should have led with that and skipped the confusing and misleading stuff used to gin up the story.
It's also puzzling why local or state officials haven't opened any investigations, leaving it to a private citizen to request a formal inquiry. You'd think the state campaign finance regulators would at least have some questions after being contacted by the KNS.
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