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VOL. 131 | NO. 217 | Monday, October 31, 2016

At Least 7 Lawmakers Had Financial Ties to GOP Donor Miller

By ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – At least seven current and former Republican lawmakers in Tennessee had financial ties to a prominent GOP donor who recently settled a federal fraud case involving the military health care program.

Andy Miller Jr. has been a prominent backer of Republican candidates who support his platform of fighting the influence of Islam in Tennessee.

State ethics disclosures show that Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma reported income from two Miller-linked companies, including one listed in the form as Omed Rx that shares the same address with QMedRx, the subject of the federal probe into alleged violations of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.

Miller and his brother agreed to settle the federal case for $7.8 million last month without admitting guilt.

Matheny, who listed income from the Miller companies in 2013 and 2014, did not return a message seeking comment.

The federal settlement caused state Sen. Mark Green – a Clarksville Republican eyeing a bid for governor in 2018 – to say that he is re-evaluating his investment in another Miller company, Diatech Oncology of Franklin. Other Republican investors in that company have included Lt. Gov. Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and the husband of Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet.

"Andy Miller is a long-time conservative activist and friend of the lieutenant governor," said Ramsey spokesman Adam Kleinheider. "Neither Mr. Miller nor anyone in his family has ever lobbied the lieutenant governor on legislation."

Ramsey, who isn't seeking re-election next month, has been following the news coverage about Miller and will reevaluate his investments after he leaves office, Kleinheider said.

Beavers said in a phone interview that she became interested in the company because she is a cancer survivor.

"He's not a lobbyist or anything, I don't see anything wrong with his friendship with legislators," Beavers said of Miller. "A lot of people are friends with Andy. He has been a friend to legislators."

Ketron, who disclosed income from Diatech in his 2014 and 2015 ethics statements, did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Miller, who did not return messages, has been a major backer of unsuccessful congressional candidates Lou Ann Zelenik and Joe Carr, and of expelled state Rep. Jeremy Durham, who an attorney general's report said had inappropriate sexual interactions with 22 women at the Legislature.

Carr, a former state lawmaker, paid $2,250 last December to settle a Federal Election Commission probe into a $200,000 loan made from his campaign to Life Watch Pharmacy, another company owned by Miller. Carr had failed to report the loan for which he received $9,564 in interest when he was running against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in 2014 GOP primary.

The Tennessean first reported that Durham's campaign spending included loans to Life Watch Pharmacy, and that the lawmaker was also an investor in Diatach Oncology. A state campaign finance probe is also underway into a more than $190,000 discrepancy between Durham's bank records and his re-election account.

The newspaper also reported that Republican Reps. Andy Holt of Dresden and Jeremy Faison of Cosby once rented a house from Miller while they were in Nashville for the legislative session.

"We rented a house from him for what I would assume was fair market value," Holt told the newspaper. "It was $1,200 or $1,500 a month and that was split."

In 2011, Miller bankrolled a trip to Europe for six state lawmakers billed as a "fact-finding mission" about the dangers of radical Islam, and he is the founder of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition that has brought Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders to speak in the state.

"I think that education has been very important," said Beavers.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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