Ford Campaign Pays Women, Wedding Expenses - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption

Ford Campaign Pays Women, Wedding Expenses

(Story created: 2/10/05)

FIRST ON 5: A NewsChannel 5 investigation has uncovered new information about state Sen. John Ford that may just take the cake -- in this case, a wedding cake. It involves thousands of dollars in questionable spending.

He's a commanding presence in the state Senate.

But John Ford revealed in a recent child support hearing he's also a presence in two houses -- one where he lives with his ex-wife and their three children, another with his girlfriend and their two children.

"I pay all these expenses, and they do not work," the Memphis Democrat told a Shelby County judge.

Yet, campaign financial disclosure reports filed by Ford shows the two non-working women in the senator's life pulled in thousands of dollars from his campaign account -- money contributed by special interests and other political supporters.

"It's very clear about the personal use of campaign funds -- the law specifically says you cannot use campaign funds for personal benefit," says Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. The agency regulates campaign spending.

But, in the last two years -- years when the Memphis Democrat wasn't up for re-election -- his girlfriend Connie Matthews pulled in payments totaling $18,400 for "professional services."

"Any idea what professional services would mean?" NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams asks Rawlins.

"It could be anything," he replies. "It could be work done on his campaign. It could be that she worked in his district."

There's also a payment to ex-wife Tamara Mitchell Ford of $2,450 in 2004.  In addition, his reports show:

  • $400 to "D Smith" of Raleigh, North Carolina in 2003. Ford pays child support to a Dana Smith in Raleigh.
  • just under $11,000 to Karen Michelle Snell in 2002-2004.  (Of that, $9,440 was in 2003-2004.) Snell is a former Ford assistant who was once involved in a brawl with his ex-wife.
  • $3,000 to Kemba and Autumn Ford in 2003-2004. They are adult daughters from yet another relationship.

All for "professional services."

"It's hard to know if something was personal or not personal when somebody's doing an expenditure," Rawlins says. "It could go either way."

But that's not all.

Two years ago, one of the senator's daughters, Autumn,  got married.  And the father of the bride opened up his campaign's wallet.

The reception was held at Memphis's elegant Peabody Hotel, inside the beautiful Continental Ballroom.

Ford's campaign paid the Peabody $9,000 dollars in 2003 for "reception, professional services" and "entertainment."

The hotel declined to comment on any of the arrangements or method of payment.

Entertaining at the reception: Larry Dodson from the legendary Memphis group, the Barkays.

Ford's campaign paid Dodson $1,500. The "entertainment expense," Dodson confirms, was for the wedding reception.

And, to capture the memories, the daughter hired Awesome Wedding Videos

But on Ford's campaign report, the word "wedding" disappears from the company's name -- as does $875 dollars from Ford's campaign account for "professional services."

Ford also spent $2,000 in campaign funds with Grand Events -- the company that confirms it provided linens and other decorations for the wedding -- plus $2,000 for a florist, Holliday Flowers.

"Is there any possible justification for paying wedding expenses?" Williams asks Rawlins.

"I can't think of any," he replies.

So Williams tracked the senator down to get some answers.

"We've been trying to reach you, sir," Williams tells Ford. "Can we talk to you about some of the sources of income that you have?"

"No, you cannot," he replies. "It's personal."

In fact, Ford has frequently stood at the center of the debate over ethics on Capitol Hill.

Two years ago, our hidden cameras spotted him in a Capitol Hill bar, boasting of the free Super Bowl tickets he pocketed from special interests.

Then, NewsChannel 5 caught him using the state's FedEx accounts for thousands of dollars in personal packages.

"What about the use of campaign funds for your daughter's wedding," Williams asks Ford.

The senator ducked into the men's room..

Still, we also wanted to ask about payments to himself ($800 dollars for "miscellaneous"), payments to hotels where lawmakers are normally reimbursed and payments for FedEx packages.

So we waited until he came out.

"Senator, do you have an answer about the use of campaign funds for personal purposes?" Williams asks Ford who refuses to answer. "No answer at all, senator?"

Ford entered his office and closed the door.  He also didn't return our phone calls.

The Registry of Election Finance, which regulates campaign spending, says it will investigate if someone files a sworn complaint against Ford.

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