Registry memo: Legislators should not double dip on expense payments

Back in June, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Randy McNally asked the Registry of Election Finance to produce a memo on the legality of legislators using campaign money to pay for meals and motels on days when they’re also getting “per diem” expense money from the state — $220 per day for those living more than 50 miles from Nashville.

After discussion of the matter at a Registry board meeting earlier this month, the Registry staff has produced the requested a short memo this week and sent it to the speakers. Not surprisingly, the brief memo says legislators shouldn’t be reimbursed twice for the same expenses.

Here’s the full text:

On a day that a member of the General Assembly receives per diem, that member may not use campaign funds to pay for non-campaign related meals or lodging for themselves or any other member of the General Assembly that is receiving per diem on that day. On a day per diem is received, meal and lodging expenses in excess of the per diem paid to a member by the State of Tennessee are not considered “ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the office of the officeholder” (T.C.A. § 2-10-114(a)(7)) and thus are not allowable campaign fund expenses. In addition, these excess meal and lodging expenses are not considered expenses “for the furtherance of the office of the officeholder” (T.C.A. § 2-10-102(6)(B)).

The speakers’ request followed reports on a Registry audit that found (along with many other alleged misdeeds) that former state Rep. Jeremy Durham apparently spent about $7,000 on meals on days he was also collecting per diem – or “double dipping” as media reports branded it – and The Tennessean subsequently reported that several other legislators had similar payments from their campaign accounts.

The memo was sent to the speakers, who may distribute it to other legislators.

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