Duncan paid $316K in campaign funds to son; other family members also on payroll

U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr.’s congressional campaign account has paid the Knoxville Republican’s son, John J. Duncan III, $316,500 in salary since July, 2013, when the younger Duncan pleaded guilty to misconduct charges and resigned as Knox County trustee, reports the Nashville Post.

The campaign also pays for his son’s cellphone and reimburses his mileage, many meals and multiple other expenses, according to reporter Cari Wade Gervin’s review of campaign disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The article says that the veteran officeholder has also made thousands of dollars in payments to other family members – another son, a niece, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law and his sister – through his campaign fund and through his political action committee, Road to Victory PAC.

Excerpts from the lengthy article:

In fact, the only non-family member paid a regular salary for campaign work in recent years has been Duncan’s chief of staff, Bob Griffitts, who receives $500 monthly for work outside his legislative duties (a regular occurrence in D.C.)

The Federal Election Commission candidate guide states, “Campaign funds may be used to make salary payments to members of the candidate’s family only if: The family member is providing a bona fide [emphasis theirs] service to the campaign; and [t]he payments reflect the fair market value of those services.”

Watchdogs and political staffers say both of those provisions appear to be at issue with some of Rep. Duncan’s expenses, most notably with payments he has been making to his son John J. Duncan III since 2013. But payments to Rep. Duncan’s other family members also raise questions as to how much one family is profiting from its long-term grip on a congressional seat.

… Two weeks after that  (Duncan III’s guilty) plea, on July 15, 2013, Rep. Duncan began paying his son a $3,000 bimonthly salary from his federal campaign account. A year later, in August 2014, the payments increased to $3,500 every other week — $84,000 annually.

…“I would ask, is [John Duncan III] actually providing bona fide services?” said Brendan Fischer, the director of federal and FEC reform for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan and nonprofit election law organization. “If so, what are they? And is [his salary] fair market value? If it goes above fair market value then you are in violation of the law.”

…The younger Duncan has been getting paid under the aegis of “American Public Strategies.” However, no business entity named American Public Strategies is registered with the state…. It was issued a Knox County business license in 2013, but that license expired in the summer of 2014 and has not been renewed since.

According to the Tennessee Department of Revenue, a person needs to get city and county business licenses and pay state business taxes if “an individual is 1) acting as a business (sole practitioner) and not as someone’s employee, 2) is conducting taxable activity, and 3) earns more than $10,000 for the services performed.”

Department of Revenue spokesperson Kelly Cortesi said it’s unclear whether the younger Duncan working for his father’s campaign as a business entity would fall into this category.

…“I’ve had numerous duties including, but not limited to, running the campaign, fundraising, coordinating volunteers, organizing events, representing my Dad at various community events and functions, meeting with constituents on his behalf, writing statements on issues — both politically and policy related, researching policy, advising my Dad on issues, conducting polling, delivering speeches, writing letters to constituents, coordinating radio, television and direct mail advertising, and handling politically related correspondence that comes into both the Knoxville and Washington offices,” John Duncan (III) said, describing his job duties in an email.

Yet that list raises even more questions, as John Duncan III seems to be describing much of his work as duties generally befalling a legislative staffer, not a campaign employee.

…Rep. Duncan has also been paying family members to run his leadership political action committee, the Road to Victory PAC. John Duncan III was paid $500 monthly to “administer” the PAC from 2006 until January 2011; his payment increased to $625 in the middle of 2010… In recent years the PAC has paid more to Zane and Hallie Duncan than it has donated to other candidates… In January 2016, Zane Duncan was appointed to the state board of parole, with its $95,000 salary, despite having zero background in legal issues or criminal justice and a college major in kinesiology….At that time, Zane’s wife Hallie Duncan became the PAC’s treasurer; she is also paid $625 monthly.

Note: In 2015, there was another brief flap over Rep. Duncan’s campaign finances.  He was apparently buying tickets with campaign funds and giving them to constituents, even though that’s apparently a violation of federal law. Previous post HERE (though the link to the News Sentinel story that was a basis for the post doesn’t seem to work now.)

5 Responses to Duncan paid $316K in campaign funds to son; other family members also on payroll

  • Typical Washington DC behavior sticking it to us lowly citizens.

  • old woman voter says:

    Very disappointing to learn.

  • Debbie Painter says:

    This does not surprise me in the least. Given Mr. Duncan’s disdain for his constituency’s recent attempts to communicate with him in person, it has long been my belief that Mr. Duncan believes that he can hold the Second District seat as long as he chooses and then pass it on to another family member – his sister or his son John III mentioned in this article. A congressional seat should not be a family possession as the Duncans seem to think it is.

  • Donna Fielden says:

    Duncan’s wife, who like their son Zane, has no background in the legal field or law enforcement was on the state’s parole board. The government gravy train really benefits the Duncan family!

  • Hope Foulds says:

    Nepotism is rarely a good idea, and as elected officials it would be better to steer clear than to appear suspect.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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