State Rep. Mary Pruitt gave our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams an earful when he asked how she was spending her campaign funds. But state regulators say there are serious questions about whether she may have broken the law.
Normally, the subjects of NewsChannel 5 investigations run from the camera.
But Mary Pruitt talks to it.
"General public, he has gone -- he thought -- behind my back, trying to get things to entrap me," Pruitt says, turning to the camera as she puts her arm around Phil Williams' shoulder. "That's what he has done.
The Nashville Democrat was talking about the rental house that she owns -- and the thousands of dollars that she's pocketed out of campaign funds, she says, to rent it to herself as a campaign office.
"He did not go and check with Drew Rawlins to ask him if I did not get permission to do that," Pruitt continues.
Williams interjects, "Actually, we did."
Drew Rawlins runs the state agency -- the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance -- that regulates campaign spending.
"You can't pay more than fair market value for that space," he explains.
He says it would be legal for Pruitt to rent this house to her campaign -- if it was really an office. And that, he says, is the question.
"What is it actually being used for?" Rawlins asks. "Are meetings being held there? Things like that, I think, would go into the equation of whether it was really being used as a campaign headquarters or not."
Williams tells Pruitt that Rawlins "says if you're actually using it as a campaign office and it's a reasonable amount. But the question is are you actually using it."
"Wait a minute," she interrupts, trying to turn Williams back toward the camera. "You turn, and you ask the people."
"No, ma'am, I'm talking to you."
"No, no, no, no, no. We're going to say it together. He wants to know am I using it?"
Neighbors say they've never seen any sign of office activity there.
And our investigation discovered Nashville Electric Service records that show there was absolutely no electricity running into the house in the last nine months of last year.
"I think to be a campaign headquarters, the building has to actually be in use," Rawlins adds, "and I would think if it has no utilities being used at the building, then they may not be using the building."
This is how Pruitt explains the situation:
Pruitt: "We don't have any computers over there. We took them over there. We took them out."
Williams: "Do you not need lights when you are over there?"
Pruitt: "We open up the blinds and everything. We do our work. Now anything else you want to trap me into?"
In fact, there are also questions about the Nashville Democrat's campaign reports -- and money that she says she has secretly spent out of her own pocket for her campaign.
Pruitt: "I spend a whole lot of money in my campaign that belonged to me."
Williams: "And you don't report that?"
Pruitt: "I don't have to report it. That's my money. I do what I want to do with my money."
Rawlins says, "That's not actually true." In fact, he adds, it's illegal for a candidate to spend money on a campaign without reporting it.
"They are supposed to report that money as a contribution and then report the expenditure that they made for their campaign."
Still, Pruitt tells Williams and the camera that she has nothing to hide.
"Why would I lie to you, sir? Why would I lie to you?" she asks Williams, turning back to the camera. "General public, why would I lie to him."
But a Republican candidate for Pruitt's seat, Jim Boyd, has now filed a complaint with the Registry of Election Finance.
That board meets Wednesday, but Rawlins says it probably won't be scheduled for discussion until next month.