Board Reverses Fine for Pruitt's Spending - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Board Reverses Fine for Pruitt's Spending

Regulators let state Rep. Mary Pruitt off the hook.

This follows an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation of how she pocketed money from her own campaign -- an investigation that became the talk of the state.

State law makes it illegal to use campaign money for personal reasons.

Wednesday, the board that regulates campaign spending decided that the Nashville Democrat had broken no laws and overturned a $10,000 fine it had previously set.

But there were serious questions that the board never asked.

Our NewsChannel 5 investigation first raised questions about an abandoned-looking house that she owns and the thousands she paid herself out of campaign funds, claiming it was an "office."

That despite the fact that there had been no electricity running to it for months on end.

"How can that be an office if there's no electricity?" NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams asked Pruitt back in July.

"We don't have any computers over there," she replied.

Appearing before the state Registry of Election Finance, this time, Pruitt let her lawyer George Barrett do the talking.

"I believe that our evidence is uncontradicted that this property was used for campaign purposes," Barrett told the board.

The board's chair asked Barrett, "When were her campaign headquarters moved from the 9th Street address?"

"For the '06 election -- in the first of '06," Pruitt's lawyer replied.

What Registry members didn't note was that Barrett's own written briefs say Pruitt actually "stopped using the building ... as a campaign headquarters" in "February of 2005" -- a year earlier.

But Williams tried to ask Barrett why he told the board that it was in 2006.

"My brief says what it says," Barrett replied.

"It says after February of '05, it was no longer a campaign headquarters," Williams noted.

"There wasn't a campaign going on."

"But she continued to pay herself."

"Mr. Williams, just read the brief."

In fact, our NewsChannel 5 investigation had done more than just read Barrett's brief.

We checked Nashville Electric Service records, which showed absolutely no electricity running into the building for most of 2005.

And we asked neighbors.

"Is it any kind of office?" Williams asked neighbor Thomas Boyd.

"No," he answered, "it's no office or nothing. Just sits there empty."

Barrett also presented photos from inside the house -- proof, the lawyer said, that she had used it to store campaign materials -- with lights on, as well as electric heat.

The photos, it turns out, were taken two months after our NewsChannel 5 investigation.

But when we tried to ask about his evidence, Barrett changed the subject.

"Mr. Williams, you are nothing here but a lackey for the Republicans. You are a patsy for the Republicans."

Williams responded, "So when I investigated Don Sundquist, was I a lackey for the Republicans?"

"I don't know that you've investigated the governor."

Barrett may be about the only person in Tennessee who doesn't know about Williams' investigations of both Republicans and Democrats.

Regardless, the board never asked him about discrepancies in Pruitt's statements, about her NES bills.

And they never asked their own staff to do an independent investigation.

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