Senator's Former Girlfriend Says Campaign Funds Misused
(Story created: 2/21/05)
FIRST ON 5: A NewsChannel 5 investigation has uncovered new questions about how lawmakers spend campaign funds -- this time, about the number two man in the state Senate. Now, for the first time, one of the senator's former girlfriends is talking.
When state Sen. Mike Williams crossed party lines to help re-elect Lieutenant Governor John Wilder, the East Tennessee Republican found himself facing questions from some in his own party.
Among them: questions about whether he profited off his campaign money. It's a charge that Williams adamantly denied.
"I don't profit from this job," Sen. Williams tells NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams. "I don't profit from anything like that."
But the Maynardville Republican's story is now being challenged by a former girlfriend. Denise Davenport didn't want to go on camera, but still she says she can't be silent.
"I am personally aware of some things that occurred that I believe were a misuse of campaign funds," she tells Phil Williams.
Prime example: hundreds of dollars that Sen. Williams spent on race tickets -- tickets that the Senate's biggest NASCAR fan claims went to constituents.
"These are to help people go to the races that otherwise would not have an opportunity to go," he says.
"Were any of those tickets for your personal use?" Phil Williams asks.
In fact, Davenport says she was led to believe their NASCAR dates were paid for with campaign funds.
"I did ask him about the use of the campaign funds," she recalls, "and it was said to me, well, you are a constituent."
Phil Williams asks the senator, "Were any of the tickets given to Denise Davenport?"
"Her family used the tickets, yes," he answers.
Not so, she says. "I received two season tickets from Mike in lieu of cash for repayment of a personal loan."
It's a claim that she backs up with these letters from Williams and with this sworn affidavit provided to NewsChannel 5.
"Was there any doubt that he used campaign funds for that?" Phil Williams asks her.
"No, no. I was with him when he wrote the check out of his campaign funds."
Phil Williams again asks the senator, "Did you give her tickets to repay a loan?"
"No. Well, wait a minute, wait a minute." Then, Williams' memory begins to improve. The loan, it turns out, bought a Dale Earnhardt toolbox like the one right behind him.
"So that's using your campaign account for personal reasons?" Phil Williams asks.
"I take full responsibility, Phil. I'm not hiding from you or anyone else. I made a mistake on this."
Still, Williams says if he ever used any other race tickets purchased with campaign funds, it was just once -- to try them out for his constituents.
"Actually went to the race to see where they were, to sit in those seats for one race."
But Davenport says "this is not an isolated incident."
In fact, Davenport says she told Sen. Williams just days ago that she might speak out -- and he already had his response ready.
"I believe his statement was, as long as he put the money back into his campaign, then everything would be OK," she says.
Sen. Williams tells Phil Williams, "If there's something questionable, I will pay that. I will write a personal check out of my personal funds. I will pay for that."
As for what these examples say about the Senate's NASCAR senator, Phil Williams asks:
"If you are using campaign funds for personal reasons here, is it possible that some of these other expenditures were for personal reasons and you just haven't gotten caught?"
"No, sir, Phil," he replies. "I don't operate that way."
Davenport, who is on a church mission trip to Africa, emailed NewsChannel 5, saying Sen. Williams actually has two of those Dale Earnhardt tool boxes.
She says the one she paid for was clearly intended for his personal collection -- which may be why he didn't use his campaign funds in the beginning.