Accuracy and campaign finance records
Posted: Friday, November 2, 2012 7:02 pm
By KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL
The state Registry of Election Finance sent a message to anyone running for office in Tennessee: “Don’t worry — your campaign finance records don’t have to be accurate.”
The regulatory board voted unanimously to drop its inquiry into Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s election finances, even though members acknowledged the campaign cannot account for $15,537.
The mayor blames his then-wife, who managed the account, for the discrepancy, alleging in a sworn statement that she took the money for personal use. His ex-wife, Allison Beaver, has said everything she did was with the knowledge and blessing of her husband.
State law, however, is crystal clear that the candidate ultimately is responsible for a campaign’s finances. The registry essentially said it doesn’t matter. At all. Burchett, who has now been before the registry three times in as many elections, did not even get a wag of the finger, much less a slap on the wrist or a meaningful fine.
The registry routinely assesses fines for failing to file reports, and just as routinely rescinds those fines if the candidate produces them. In Burchett’s case, he has filed amended reports that still contain discrepancies.
The message seems to be that as long as a candidate files the proper paperwork, either on time or after some prodding, registry members will not be concerned about their accuracy. …
Registry member Lee Anne Murray told Burchett’s lawyer the mayor still needs to “zero-out” his statements because of the missing cash, but that might be impossible. Regardless of who is telling the truth, the mayor or his ex-wife, both agree that the money was not spent on campaign matters and was used for personal business.
Election finance laws exist to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. There are limits on what donors can give and restrictions on how candidates spend the money. Transparency should be accompanied by accountability. Residents depend upon the Registry of Election Finance to enforce these statutes and make sure that candidates for office follow the rules. But the registry in this instance seems unwilling to get off the porch. Lax enforcement by a toothless oversight board makes a mockery of the law. Tennesseans deserve better. Published in The WCP 11.1.12