Disclosing David Lenoir

David Lenoir

David Lenoir wants to be elected Trustee of the largest county in the state of Tennessee, Shleby. After winning the primary election against perennial candidate John Willingham, he faces current Trustee Regina Morrison Newman in the General Election in August.

The Republican, residing in Collierville, leads his campaign website with the words Qualified. Expereinced. Efficient.

Most people don’t really know what a “Trustee” does. The Tennessee County Trustee’s Association gives a pretty good definition:

The Trustee is the county’s banker and tax collector. The trustee, who is elected to a four year term, maintains control of county funds until they are distributed on a monthly basis to government agencies. The trustee oversees a total annual cash flow of all county finances.

Based on property tax assessments provided by the assessor’s office and the property tax rate as set by the County Commission, the trustee determines the amount of your property tax bill. Tax bills are mailed in September and become delinquent if not paid by the last day in February of the following year. As tax collector, the trustee processes all tax bills and collects all money owed.

Clearly, while the job of Trustee is one of those down ballot races that people forget about, the importance of the office’s function in County Government can’t be understated. They deal with all the money coming in, and going out.

So being good with money is important. Making sure that things get put where they’re supposed to and get reported properly is vital to the job. Knowing and following all the rules and responsibilities of the office is critical to ensure people can trust the “Trustee”.

Since this is an elected office, part of those rules and responsibilities include knowing campaign finance laws and filing a proper disclosure…and that’s where David Lenoir may have a problem.

According to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance’s FAQ (TREF) on campaign contributions, individuals ad LLC’s are limited to a $1000 contribution for primary elections, and an additional $1000 for general elections. On the form that TREF provides for reporting campaign contributions, there are checkboxes to designate what elections the contributions are for.

It has become common practice for candidates to provide a printout of an Excel spreadsheet in lieu of hand writing or worse, typing this form over and over. But if candidates do that they must ensure they provide all the same information that the form includes, lest they possibly be subject to an inquiry from TREF, or worse, a fine.

From the looks of it, David Lenoir has some explaining to do. In his April 7th disclosure, covering the period of February 18th through March 31st, Mr. Lenoir has 9 contributions listed that are assigned to the primary election, that also exceed state limits. One contribution is FOUR TIMES the limitation on candidates for county office. The contributions are shown in red on the image below.

From David Lenoir's April 7th Disclosure
Click to embiggen

I wonder how Lenoir’s Republican primary challenger John Willingham feels about this? His entire campaign was financed on the same amount of money as Lenoir’s top 3 donors, who all, according to Lenoir’s own report, “over-gave”.

I talked to TREF about this issue and was told that for state races, they would send the candidate a letter giving them an opportunity to correct the mistake. However, since county candidates file their financial disclosures with county election commissions, and those county election commissions are not required to inspect all disclosures, chances are they haven’t noticed the problem.

With money, little mistakes can lead to big problems. While I’m sure there are a lot of explanations for this reporting error, from oversight, to any number of other things, you have to wonder, if this guy can’t get a simple thing like a Financial Disclosure right, should we trust him with all the money in Shelby County government?

That’s a question voters will have to decide in August.

David Lenoir’s campaign financial disclosures can be found here (4/7/10) and here (4/24/10). Both links are ftp sites and may not work in all browsers (like Safari for instance).




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