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Congressman may have misused $100,000 in campaign funds

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WASHINGTON — A Republican congressman from Tennessee may have improperly converted more than $100,000 from his campaign committee and leadership political action committee into personal use over the past decade, according to an independent ethics office that asked the House Ethics Committee to review the matter.

The conclusions from the Office of Congressional Ethics on Rep. John Duncan Jr. were released Wednesday by the House Ethics Committee, which says it’s continuing to review the matter.

The office says about one-quarter of the questionable spending came in the form of travel, including a three-night trip to West Virginia’s Greenbrier resort by Duncan, his family and campaign supporters who were personal friends. The Office of Congressional Ethics found that the 2014 trip primarily was recreational. The office investigates complaints from the public, but only the House Ethics Committee has the power to punish a lawmaker for wrongdoing.

Duncan, 70, has already announced that he will not seek re-election. He is in his 16th term representing a Knoxville-based congressional district that is considered a safe Republican seat.

Lawyers representing Duncan disputed the OCE’s findings and said the expenses in question were for “bona fide campaign or political purposes.” Duncan’s lawyers called on the Ethics Committee to dismiss the matter.

“He did not knowingly act in a way that was illegal, inappropriate or questionable in the context of commonly understood ethical behavior,” Duncan’s lawyers told the committee.

The attorneys also said Duncan’s campaign committee reported to the FEC all of the expenses at issue. But to avoid any appearance of impropriety, he has voluntarily reimbursed his campaign for certain expenses.

The House Ethics Committee generally must release the OCE’s recommendations within 90 days. That deadline was Wednesday with the committee noting that the release of the OCE’s report or its own continued review does not itself indicate any violations of House rules or federal law occurred.

In addition to citing the Greenbrier trip, the OCE said it identified travel, private club dues, wedding and baby showers, personal cellphones and family meal expenses “that were not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes.”

Using campaign funds for personal expenses is prohibited under federal election law.

The ethics office concluded: “There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Duncan’s campaign committee and leadership PAC expended funds that were not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes.”

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