Lawmakers Bill Taxpayers for Personal FedEx - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption

Lawmakers Bill Taxpayers for Personal FedEx

(Story created: 11/24/03)

A NewsChannel 5 "You Paid For It" investigation has already sparked an internal review at the legislature.

Every year, lawmakers spend thousands of dollars to send packages overnight. But it's not always state business. NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams discovered that sometimes anything goes.

When it comes to the spending of Tennessee's universities, state lawmakers have been outraged.

But those same lawmakers have set up secret long-distance accounts so no one can trace how they're spending your money.

And how they use the state's postage is anybody's guess, according to legislative administrator Connie Frederick.

"It's not appropriate for me to be in a package to see what the contents are, which is one of the reasons why it's very difficult to have checks and balances in place," Frederick tells Phil Williams.

But when we investigated how your lawmakers use the state's FedEx accounts, we discovered: when it comes to limiting their own spending, they don't always deliver.

Take, for example, state Sen. John Ford. 

The Memphis Democrat has spent almost $2,200 in the past year to overnight packages by FedEx.  That compares to $18,000 spent a year for all 132 members of the legislature.

Across state government, you pay $400,000 a year to make sure that packages "absolutely, positively" get there overnight.

Billing records show that Ford's office has allowed his ex-wife Tamara Mitchell Ford to repeatedly use the state's FedEx account. Included are more than a dozen overnight packages she shipped at state expense to her family in South Carolina.

And that's not all. Taxpayers also paid for her to FedEx packages to court officials in Alabama where she faced DUI charges, packages to a resort in Orlando, even to overnight her credit card payments to American Express.

"Is that appropriate?" Phil Williams asks Frederick.

"Again, it's not appropriate for me to speak to what Sen. Ford may have asked someone else to do for him, as it relates to his duties as a legislator."

Talk radio's Phil Valentine says, "Give me a break."

"This kind of garbage has got to end. We've got people who do not realize that this is taxpayer money."

The senator himself also keeps the FedEx trucks running, overnighting packages to lots of constituents named Ford: Joseph Ford, Kemba Ford, Michael Ford, Michelle Ford, Maxine Ford.

"No relation, of course," Valentine deadpans. "No, no, no. He's buying a car, you see, probably one part at a time. They are FedEx'ing it in."

Then, there are his constituents at some of the country's finest catalogue companies, such as Neiman Marcus and J.Crew.

"Why would it ever be appropriate to charge taxpayers for a package from Neiman Marcus?" Williams asks Frederick.

"Again, not knowing what's in the package, I can't comment as to its use."

Valentine says, "You've got to look nice when you are on the floor of the Senate -- no doubt about that. Those can certainly be excused, I'm sure."

Sen. Ford may be the worst offender. But some other lawmakers have also slipped up and billed taxpayers for occasional packages that they admit were inappropriate.

State Rep. Donna Rowland, R-Murfreesboro, FedEx'ed a package to Majority Strategies and another to Conquest Communications -- both political consulting firms.

Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, overnighted a package to political consultant Arthur Jackson.

Both say those packages were mistakenly charged to the wrong accounts.

"It has raised the issue that the checks and balances in my office may very well not be appropriate and may have failed," Frederick says.

She has now asked state auditors to review how lawmakers FedEx accounts are handled.

As for Sen. Ford, he tells Phil Williams, by phone, that the real crime is that NewsChannel 5 would dare to call him to ask about how he spends your money.

"Don't call me today, tomorrow or ever -- you understand?" Ford says. "Don't call me back. If you do, I'm going to consider it harassment and file charges against you."

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