Wedding Video Shows How Ford Spent Campaign Money - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption

Wedding Video Shows How Ford Spent Campaign Money

(Story created: 3/1/05)

FIRST ON 5: A NewsChannel 5 investigation first exposed how powerful state Sen. John Ford may have pocketed campaign money to finance a daughter's wedding. Now, we've obtained exclusive access to video from that wedding to see how that money was spent.

Tradition has it that when a woman marries, her family pays for the wedding.

But when Ford gave his daughter Autumn's hand in marriage, reports show he was also dipping his hand into his campaign coffers.

"The average citizen of Tennessee is not going to have a wedding this lavish," says TennCare patient Barry Schmittou, who has turned filing ethics complaints against Ford into a personal crusade.

"The election laws state that you cannot use money for personal use, and this is absolutely for personal use."

And the video, obtained by NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams from a source with connections to the Ford family, shows it was anything but a low-cost affair -- from the ceremony inside the opulent St. Mary's Cathedral to the reception inside the elegant Peabody Hotel.

The powerful Memphis Democrat -- seen with ex-wife and mother of the bride Maxine Ford -- was hailed as the one who made the whole day possible.

But Schmittou says, "I think they should have said that this wedding is being sponsored by people who are giving money to Sen. Ford so they can influence his legislative action and votes."

In fact, even the wedding video was paid, at least partly, out of Ford's campaign accounts. The amount:  $875.

The company that confirms it provided much of the decorations received almost $2,000.

Those same reports show expenditures for flowers -- another $2,000 -- and money to the Peabody itself for unspecified reception expenses -- $9,000.

Then there was the entertainment -- Memphis style.  

Headlining the reception was the flamboyant Larry Dodson of the legendary group, the Barkays.  Dodson says he donated his time, but Ford's campaign paid the band: $1,500.

"Does that look like a campaign expense to you?" Williams asks Schmittou.

"No, it does not."

But after the father of the bride dipped into his campaign accounts, he filed reports swearing that he had not used any of the money for personal reasons.

"Wouldn't that be perjury, if it's a sworn statement?" Schmittou asks.

In fact, the citizen activist has filed repeated ethics complaints against Ford -- first, after our hidden cameras caught the Senate chairman hitting up lobbyists for Super Bowl tickets, then after we caught him using state FedEx accounts for personal business.

"This is being condoned by the legislature -- every one up there -- because they won't take any action themselves," he adds.

Schmittou says he now believes that lawmakers like Ford push the line because they've come to believe, even if they're caught, they can still have that fairy tale ending.

Still, he has filed a complaint over the wedding and other expenditures with the agency that regulates campaign spending.

But there's some question about whether or not the Registry of Election Finance will even consider his complaint.

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