An Office of Congressional Ethics investigation found that Rep. Jimmy Duncan may have improperly used more than $100,000 in campaign donations for personal use. The money included tens of thousands of dollars that went to his son, a convicted felon who is also the Tennessee Republican’s campaign manager.
OCE said the funds came from his campaign committee and leadership PAC. It scrutinized “credit card, travel, and other purchase records and found multiple instances in which the campaign committee expended funds for the personal benefit of Rep. Duncan’s family and friends.”
OCE determined “there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Duncan’s campaign committee and leadership PAC expended funds that were not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes.”
The independent ethics watchdog raised questions about more than $15,000 spent on a late 2014 trip to the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, an excursion that included Duncan’s four adult children; $6,551 spent on the 2017 inauguration, including hotel rooms for family members; Duncan’s membership at a Nashville club, where thousands of dollars in campaign funds were spent on bridal and wedding showers for Duncan family members and friends; more than $13,000 on his son’s campaign phone, which was also used for personal business; and $27,000 in sporting event and concerts, including Washington Redskins’ season tickets.
The House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday that it would continue to evaluate the Duncan case but has not decided whether to proceed with a full-scale investigation of the Tennessee Republican, as OCE requested. Duncan is retiring at the end of the year, and it’s unclear whether the Ethics Committee could complete an investigation by that date.
According to the Nashville Post, Duncan’s campaign has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past decade to “two sons, his niece, his son-in-law, his daughter-in-law and his sister for campaign work.” Duncan also appeared to rent some campaign space from a company tied to his son-in-law, who is also his campaign treasurer, the newspaper reported.
Duncan strongly denied any suggestion of wrongdoing. In a submittal to the Ethics Committee, Duncan’s lawyer has challenged OCE’s jurisdiction over the case, and Duncan said in a statement that an unnamed OCE staffer was determined to find some wrongdoing on his part.
“I have never personally taken one penny out of my campaign account for personal or family expenses,” Duncan said in the statement. “The staffer for the OCE prepared a report on my campaign spending that is so false and misleading that it is almost ludicrous. She has made a ridiculous accusation that I ‘may‘ have converted a very large amount of money to my personal use when practically all of it was spent buying meals for campaign workers, supporters, contributors, and constituents, many of whom I did not even know.”
In his statement, Duncan said, "I have reimbursed my campaign for every expense that appeared in the slightest way to be personal."
However, a Duncan spokesman would not say how much the Tennessee Republican gave to his campaign or what expenses were reimbursed.
Some of the most questionable expenses, according to OCE, are tied to John Duncan III, who served as Duncan's campaign manager.
Expected at one point to run for his father's congressional seat, the younger Duncan pled guilty in 2013 to official misconduct and stepped down as a Knox County trustee. He went on Duncan's congressional campaign payroll in July 2013.
Campaign staffers raised questions with other Duncan aides about John Duncan III's expenses, including paying for a marriage anniversary dinner with his wife on a campaign credit card.
The younger Duncan told OCE “my kind of weak spot has been hanging onto receipts and documenting everything.”
OCE also found that the younger Duncan used a campaign-paid cell phone as a contact number for his real-estate business.