Ethics Committee to expand campaign finance investigation of Tennessee Republican

Ethics Committee to expand campaign finance investigation of Tennessee Republican
© Greg Nash

The House Ethics Committee is expanding its probe into Rep. John DuncanJohn James DuncanLamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee Tennessee New Members 2019 Live coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill MORE Jr.’s (R-Tenn.) potential campaign finance violations.

The decision to conduct a full investigation follows a 90-day review conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) into allegations he misused campaign funds to pay thousands of dollars to friends and family members and accepted improper campaign contributions from his congressional staffers who were later reimbursed.

The nonpartisan ethics watchdog found Duncan "may have converted more than $100,000 from his campaign committee and leadership PAC to personal use."

The OCE wrote "there is substantial reason to believe" unlawful spending took place since 2008.

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Examples of alleged misuse of funds from his campaign committee, Duncan for Congress, and leadership PAC, Road to Victory PAC, include $15,091 used for a three-night trip for family and friends at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia; $23,913.80 for membership fees to Club LeConte, a private club in Knoxville, Tenn., and baby shower and wedding shower expenses; and $27,584.50 for season tickets to sporting events and concerts.

In addition to alleged improper spending, the watchdog said thousands of dollars were unaccounted for.

"The detailed itemization shows that the missing disbursements include $5,654.62 for eleven separate payments or withdrawals from an American Express account and a $2,074.50 write off for a check to Best Buy which did not clear," the report reads. "The OCE could not identify how the leadership PAC spent this $7,729.12 and whether these expenditures were for bona fide campaign or political purposes. The bulk of the additional unreported disbursements appear to have been for bona fide political or campaign expenditures."

The Office of Congressional Ethics, in a 57-page report that examined his FEC filings over the course of the past decade, cited five separate instances in which Duncan may have accepted contributions from staffers that violate ethics standards, totaling $589.90.

The employees were reimbursed for small-dollar purchases including craft supplies, a cake for a fundraiser, food for an election night party, tickets to a lunch event and a pair of golf shoes intended to be a gift for former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIsrael should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support Lobbyists race to cash in on cannabis boom Rising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief MORE (R-Ohio).

According to the report, Duncan said the campaign committee didn't have written policies about congressional staffers purchasing things on behalf of the campaign.

Duncan denied the accusations in a letter to Ethics Committee Chairwoman Susan BrooksSusan Wiant BrooksHouse Democrats target 2020 GOP incumbents in new ad The House Republicans and Democrats not seeking reelection in 2020 Mellman: Is the DCCC in successful chaos? MORE (R-Ind.) in February, arguing an Office of Congressional Ethics "staffer was determined to make something bad out of something good" and he didn't "knowingly act in a way that is illegal."

If Duncan is found to be guilty of misusing funds, he could face major legal repercussions.

In 2013, former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison after having used $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use. Federal charges are still pending for former Rep. Aaron SchockAaron Jon SchockThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Cohen back on the hot seat Prosecutors drop charges against former Rep. Aaron Schock Supreme Court won't hear appeal from ex-Rep. Aaron Schock MORE (R-Ill.), who was indicted in 2016 after having allegedly misused government and campaign funds.

The Tennessee Republican announced in July he doesn't plan to seek reelection.

Updated at 5:02 p.m.