Tennessee Lawmakers Spent $30K on Grizzlies, Titans Tickets


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A recent analysis of state campaign finance records show at least seven Tennessee lawmakers collectively spent more than $30,000 in campaign money on tickets to professional sporting events since 2003.

The Tennessean found the tickets were to Tennessee Titans and Memphis Grizzlies games, and that Democratic Rep. Larry Miller of Memphis spent the most: $12,836.50. Of that amount, $8,378 was for Titans tickets, and $4,458.50 was used to purchase Grizzlies tickets.

Miller said what he did was "within the rules," and he's right.

Although state law bans the use of campaign funds for tickets to sporting events, concerts or other similar activities, there's an exemption that allows essentially all ticket purchases to go unchecked.

Buying such tickets with campaign funds is largely banned for federal candidates, but the campaign finance laws in Tennessee and a slew of other states either allow or don't clearly ban such purchases.

In Tennessee, the law prohibits using campaign funds to pay for "admission to a sporting event, concert, theater, activity, charitable event or other form of entertainment."

However, the law continues, "unless the event is an expense associated with a legitimate campaign or officeholder activity, where the tickets to such event are provided to students attending schools, guests or constituents of the candidate or officeholder, or persons involved in the candidate's or officeholder's campaign."

Although Miller said many of his tickets went to constituents or were not used, he personally used tickets from time to time. Any time he used a ticket, he personally paid for it, he said.

"I think my campaign donors knew that I was contributing quite often to community-type services, nonprofits, making year-round donations," he said. "I don't think necessarily they'd have a problem with that."

Two of the lawmakers listed with Miller — former Democratic Reps. Lois DeBerry and Ulysses Jones of Memphis — are now deceased. According to the analysis, DeBerry spent $6,475 on Titans tickets, and Jones spent $4,832.60 ($4,557.60 on Grizzlies tickets, $275 on Titans tickets).

Rounding out the top five were former Rep. Mike Turner, D-Nashville ($3,354 on Titans tickets), and Democratic Rep. Joe Armstrong of Knoxville ($1,685 on Titans tickets).

Turner said he donated items to constituents and charitable organizations frequently during his time at the General Assembly. Sometimes he gave away televisions; sometimes, it was Titans tickets.

"I rarely attended Titans games," Turner said. "I gave them to constituents. Some elementary school or something would have a raffle, and I would donate the tickets for them to raffle off."

Federal election law is more stringent than Tennessee's law, and similar laws in other states. Unless the tickets are purchased for a fundraiser or similar event, federal candidates can't use their official campaign money to buy tickets, said Christian Hilland, a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission.

"A federal candidate's authorized committee may not pay for admission to sporting events, concerts, theater and other forms of entertainment," Hilland said.

"Campaign funds may be used, however, if the entertainment is part of a specific officeholder or campaign activity such as a fundraising event to raise contributions. They may not be used for a leisure outing at which the discussion occasionally focuses on the campaign or official functions."

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.