Tennessee Congressmen use campaign donations to pay for travel, gifts & parade supplies

News Channel 11 combed through federal data to see how Tennessee U.S Representatives in Congress spend individual election campaign contributions.

TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL)- It’s the middle of election season 2016 and politicians have probably already reached out, asking you to donate to their election campaigns to help get them elected.

News Channel 11 combed through federal data to see how Tennessee U.S Representatives in Congress spend individual election campaign contributions. A candidate for federal office is required to report campaign expenses to the Federal Election Commission. The contributions can pay for almost anything related to campaigning.

Eight of Tennessee’s U.S. representatives are up for re-election this year. Congressman Morgan Griffith from Virginia is also trying to get re-elected. FEC records for the 2015-2016 election cycle show individual contributions paid for a variety of items and services, including consulting fees and office supplies. Records show most candidates spent the most money on catering, fundraisers, events and rentals for events.

Congressman Marsha Blackburn, who represents Tennessee’s 7th district, spent the most in that category when compared to other U.S. representatives in the Volunteer State. FEC records show her campaign spent nearly $160,000 on catering, fundraisers, facility rentals and other events. The most expensive payment in that category was around $18,000 for catering and a facility rental at the Omni Hotel. Darcy Anderson, works for Blackburn’s campaign, Blackburn for Congress, and said the event was an annual Women of Distinction luncheon fundraiser for Blackburn for Congress. Anderson said every year someone is honored. “This year was our biggest yet, with more than 500 women in attendance. The expense was for the rental of the facility and lunch for the attendees; which comes out to less than $36 a person.”

Congressman Phil Roe, who represents Tennessee’s first district, did not spend anything on catering, fundraisers or event rentals. He told News Channel 11 he thinks it’s unnecessary. “I’m out and seeing people every day that I’m home and I think it plays benefits for me,” Roe said.

U.S. Representative Blackburn spent nearly $36,000 on travel and lodging when compared to her counterparts in Tennessee, including more than $600 for a charter flight. A campaign official said the charter flight was necessary for Congressman Blackburn to make it to an annual fundraiser on time in her home state of Mississippi.

U.S. Representative Jim Cooper spent about $7,500 on mailers and stamps while Congressman Morgan Griffith spent about $4,100 and Congressman Roe spent about $6,200. U.S. Representative Roe said, “The postage we spent [is responding to] people who’ve written us. These are not unsolicited. When people send your office you have to respond to that.”

Congressman Griffith spent about $500 on parade candy and supplies while Congressmen Jim Duncan and Roe spent $125 and $66, respectively. Congressman Duncan, who represents the second district of Tennessee, spent about $6,000 on gifts from stores like Babies R Us, Bed, Bath & Beyond and the White House Historical Association. Duncan’s campaign office said all the items were “small token gifts” to campaign volunteers, supporters, contributors or for campaign-related events.

We also uncovered some purchases that were unique to specific candidates. Duncan’s campaign was the only campaign in Tennessee to spend money on credit card late fees. FEC records show the Duncan campaign spent more than $100 on American Express credit card late fees. Records also show U.S Representative Blackburn spent more than $500 on ornaments.

Congressman Jim Cooper was the only Tennessee candidate in the 2015-2016 election cycle to spend more than $28,000 on robo-calls. An official for his campaign said the robo-calls are “to remind people to vote before elections. We also have typical administrative expenses like… mailings.”

To view the entire FEC report for each candidate, visit the Federal Election Commission website.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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