Questions surround Congressman Jimmy Duncan's campaign payments to family members

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - U.S. Congressman Jimmy Duncan is coming under scrutiny after a Nashville newspaper's report that he's paid thousands of dollars to family members over the years, particularly his son John Duncan III, for campaign work.

John Duncan III was formerly the Knox County Trustee but resigned in July 2013 after pleading guilty to official misconduct. A federal investigation had revealed, among other things, paying himself and employees bonuses for certification classes they never took.

The Nashville Post reports that two weeks after the plea, Jimmy Duncan began paying his son a $3,000 bimonthly salary from his campaign fund, which increased to $3,500 every two weeks in 2014, a salary of $84,000, which, the paper says, is more than most of Rep. Duncan's Washington D.C. staffers make.

Since November 2013, FEC filings show John Duncan III's company American Public Strategies receiving those payments, but no business by that name is registered with the state, according to the Post. The company has never registered for a business license with the city, but did have a business license with Knox County that expired in 2014.

Brenden Fischer, the director of the Campaign Legal Center's Federal and FEC Reform Program in Washington DC says it's not illegal to pay family members if they're being paid for the work fairly.

"The primary question would be: is the amount being paid to John Duncan III commensurate to the services provided? Is it similar to other congressional candidates in similarly sized districts are paying to other individuals providing similar services?" he said.

Congressman Duncan issued a statement Friday saying campaign payments to family members are neither unusual nor unethical:

Every expenditure from my campaign has been done according to law and in compliance with all pertinent regulations of the Federal Election Commission. Many members of Congress, past and present, have paid family members for campaign work. The fact that family members have run, and worked in, my campaigns has been public for a long time.

In the last four years, I have paid my son, John, who has been in charge of my entire political operation doing everything from putting up yard signs and answering campaign calls to conducting polls, giving speeches, and raising funds. He was paid far less than many campaign managers and consultants while doing many things that they would not do.

Every expenditure in relation to my family was done because I got family members to do things for much less than Washington campaign people.

These are important positions of trust and I have the utmost trust in my family.

John Duncan III also issued a statement explaining his duties for his father's campaign:

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 people on his behalf, writing statements/responses on political and policy related issues, research, advising my Dad on various issues, conducting polling, running phone banks, delivering speeches, coordinating radio, television and direct mail advertising, and handling politically related correspondence that comes into both the Knoxville and Washington offices.

WATE 6 On Your Side Political Analyst George Korda says it's hard for him to believe Duncan would do something blatantly illegal.

"if the congressman's son were not performing duties that were commensurate for being paid for, the likelihood is high that someone either inside or with knowledge of those practices would have blown the whistle on that a long time ago," he said.

Dr. Joshua Williams, who has announced he would be running for Duncan's seat this year as a Democrat, also issued a statement:

If true, these actions represent a violation of public trust and should be investigated by all relevant authorities including the Office of Congressional Ethics. The public deserves better than politicians who enrich their families at our expense.

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