In a rare move Tuesday, the House Ethics Committee confirmed it was investigating Republican John “Jimmy” Duncan, Jr. for possible violations related to alleged improper funneling of campaign funds to a family member.
In 2013, Duncan III – then a county trustee – plead guilty to a felony charge of official misconduct when he was caught paying himself and six staffers bonuses for completing a training program they did not, in fact, take. The plea came after he lied to investigators, claiming he did not know it was improper to award the money before the training was completed. He ended up serving a year of probation.
Subsequently, a series of payments Representative Duncan paid to his troubled son totalling approximately $300,000 came to light, apparently, for services rendered during over the course of the elder Duncan’s successful re-election bids. This, presumably, is the subject of the House Ethics investigation.
In their statement, the Ethics Committee said it received a referral January 4 regarding Representative Duncan from the Office of Congressional Ethics, an outside agency charged with reviewing ethics allegations against House members. The committee is required to publicly disclose the subject of a review within 45 days of receiving a referral from the office. It has an additional 45 days (until April 4) to decide “its course of action in this matter” and release an OCE report detailing that office’s findings.
The Ethics Committee Statement reads:
Statement of the Chairwoman [Susan W. Brooks (R-IN-05)] and Ranking Member [Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL-22)] of the Committee of Ethics Regarding Representative John Duncan, Jr.
Pursuant to House Rule XI, clause 3(b)(8)(A), and Committee Rules 17A(b)(1)(A) and 17A(c)(1), the Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the Committee of Ethics (Committee) hace jointly decided to extend the matter regarding Representative John Duncan, Jr., which was transmitted to the Committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics on January 4, 2018.
The Committee notes that the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such and extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgement on befalf of the Committee.
The Committee will announce its course of action in this matter on or before Wednesday, April 4, 2018.
Representative Duncan, who announced back in July 2017 that he will not run for re-election, denies any wrongdoing.
“Many members of Congress, past and present, have paid family members for campaign work. The fact that family members have run, and worked in, my campaigns has been public for a long time,” he said in a statement to the Knoxville News Sentinel in 2017.
The embattled congressman released a statement Tuesday reiterating his denial, and assured the public that nothing untoward had occured:
After I had decided not to run for re-election, but before I had announced my decision, someone filed an ethics complaint against me. Anyone can file such a complaint, and I am not allowed to know who did so. However, there is a left-wing group in Washington which has filed many ethics complaints against Republican members of Congress to try to get them bad publicity. This was obviously very political and done by someone who was afraid I was going to run for re-election.
Once such a complaint is filed an investigation is mandatory. A staffer for the Office of Congressional Ethics went over all my campaign expenditures for the last 10 years—thousands of expenditures–almost all of which were very small. Every expenditure was public and reported in my numerous reports to the Federal Election Commission, always filed on time over the years. No taxpayer money was involved.
Every expenditure I have ever made out of my campaign funds has been done to help me politically and to assist in my campaigns. That is what campaign funds are for. I have never taken one penny personally other than to pay for meals when I was eating with campaign workers, supporters, or constituents visiting Washington. This is perfectly legal.
The OCE, after going over these thousands of expenditures, felt it should be left up to the Ethics Committee to decide whether a very few of the larger expenditures were political and allowed to be paid for by campaign funds. I can and will assure the Committee, if asked to do so, that they were all political and helped me in my campaigns.
Thanks to a great staff and all the campaign work my family has done over the years, I have been able to run some of the cheapest Congressional campaigns in this Country. I am confident the Ethics Committee will resolve this matter in my favor.
The Duncan family is a veritable dynasty in the Knoxville area, representing the people of the 2nd congressional district for a half-century. Jimmy Duncan was elected to the House in a special election in 1988, after his father, John J. Duncan, died in office.
Read the House Ethics Committee memo: