Campaign audit: 100s of potential violations by ex-lawmaker Durham

Friday, February 3, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 5

NASHVILLE (AP) — An audit released Wednesday outlines hundreds of potential campaign finance violations by former state Rep. Jeremy Durham, a Franklin Republican who was expelled from the state House last fall amid a series of sexual harassment allegations.

The Tennessee Registry of Campaign Finance unanimously voted to approve the audit and proceed with the case against Durham.

"It's just the proverbial onion, and just every layer you get to just gets worse," said Tom Lawless, a Republican member of the panel.

Among the audit's findings: Durham failed to report more than $36,000 in campaign contributions; disbursed nearly $69,000 in promissory and convertible notes for personal use; and charged both the state and his campaign for $7,700 worth of the same expenses.

Durham's attorney, Peter Strianse, tried unsuccessfully to block the public release of the audit until his client gets a chance to dispute the findings.

"You've not heard the other side," Strianse said. "What is the remedy if after the show-cause hearing that you find there have been ... significant errors and misapprehensions contained in the report?"

The panel members said the audit is a public record under state law, and Durham will have a chance to respond in writing and at a hearing scheduled for June.

The audit alleges that Durham withdrew nearly $12,000 in cash from his campaign accounts without showing any campaign purpose and that he spent campaign money on a series of prohibited expenses, including:

— $3,092 on suits, alterations and dry-cleaning.

— $1,474 on landscaping and home improvements at his house.

— $1,850 for a computer forensic company related to investigation into sexual harassment allegations.

— $489 on restaurants, concessions and alcohol.

— $221 on two pairs of sunglasses.

The audit outlines a series of loans and notes that were made to and from Durham's campaign account. For example, Durham's campaign loaned $120,000 at a 5 percent interest rate to Life Watch Pharmacy, a company owned by prominent GOP donor Andy Miller Jr.

Durham also provided nearly $30,000 to professional gambler David Whitis which the former lawmaker listed as a "loan to a friend" and is also alleged to have made a $25,000 loan to his wife.

A motion to refer the audit findings to the Williamson County prosecutor and the Board of Professional Responsibility for attorneys fell short of the four votes it needed from the five-member panel, but members noted that the audit would be posted online and be available to anyone with an interest.

Durham was considered a rising Tennessee Republican who was unafraid of picking fights with fellow lawmakers or the popular GOP governor. But his increasingly erratic behavior and mounting sexual harassment allegations finally caught up with him when the chamber voted 70-2 to expel him in September.

One female lobbyist interviewed by the attorney general's office said Durham was nicknamed "Pants Candy" after she said he rummaged in his pocket before suggestively offering her a dirty, unwrapped mint.

The ouster vote came after Durham had already lost his primary, but it was needed to keep him from qualifying for state pension benefits upon reaching retirement age. Durham has said he's a victim of a Republican establishment vendetta and that he was ousted based on unproven anonymous allegations.