Board Takes First Step Over Senator's Spending - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption

Board Takes First Step Over Senator's Spending

State Sen. Jerry Cooper State Sen. Jerry Cooper

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance voted Wednesday to let state Sen. Jerry Cooper explain why he should not be fined for pocketing $95,000 in campaign funds.

It all stems from evidence -- first obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates -- showing 24 checks written from the Warren County Democrat's campaign accounts from late 1999 to late 2001.

The evidence was introduced at Cooper's bank fraud trial earlier this summer.  Cooper was acquitted on those charges.

After NewsChannel 5 obtained the evidence, the Registry voted not to investigate unless some citizen filed an official complaint.

Last month, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research filed a complaint that prompted the board's action.

"I couldn't have said it better than the Registry itself," the center's Trent Seibert said following the board meeting. "It looks bad. It looks egregious. It looks like something is really wrong here. And they are taking action."

But one member of the Registry failed to convince her colleagues that they should look at what the Warren County Democrat has done with his campaign money since 2001.

It's something that the group that file a complaint over Cooper's spending thought was a good idea.

"As you know we only got a piece of this because of that trial," Seibert said. "It's that one exhibit that looked at one part of Jerry Cooper's life. And I'll tell you if there's smoke, there's fire."

The Registry says Cooper could face a $10,000 fine for each check -- a total of $240,000.

Cooper's attorney has acknowledged that the senator made a mistake.

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