Regulators Say 'There's a Problem on the Hill' - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption

Regulators Say 'There's a Problem on the Hill'

(Story created: 7/13/05)

They have their hands on your wallet, but who watches over all the lawmakers and lobbyists on Capitol Hill? State regulators began tackling new allegations. But some fear they face an overwhelming problem.

State Rep. Bill Baird may have picked the wrong day to beg a state board to forgive him for not filing reports showing how he spent his campaign money.

After months of controversy over Senate chairman John Ford, the board that's supposed to police politicians and lobbyists was in no mood to give Baird a break.

Some are now calling for the Registry of Election Finance to be scrapped -- and replaced by a new get-tough ethics commission.

"I'm telling you all there's a problem up there on the Hill. We're getting sucked like a rip tide into it," Registry member Will Long told his colleagues.

Responding to a NewsChannel 5 investigation, the registry voted to demand that the Senate's number two man, Sen. Mike Williams, explain his use of campaign funds to buy NASCAR tickets that he used to pay off a debt to a former girlfriend.

It's a charge that she backed up in a sworn affidavit obtained by NewsChannel 5.

"I take full responsibility, Phil," the senator told NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams at the time. "I'm not hiding from you or anyone else. I made a mistake on this."

The registry also voted to demand that TennCare figure Osbie Howard defend his wining and dining of former Sen. John Ford and four other lawmakers.

But members worry that the problems in this world of friends and favors may be more than they can handle.

"We have limited investigative authority," Long said. "We have limited fines. We have limited jurisdiction. And we can't fix every problem."

Barry Schmittou, the NewsChannel 5 viewer who filed the complaints, questions whether the Registry has done all it could do.

He filed a new round of complaints, asking the board to find out why so many lawmakers are using campaign funds to pay off credit cards -- as we first exposed -- without having to justify whether the credit card charges are legitimate or not.

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