Ethics Committee Acknowledges Investigation of John Duncan Jr.

Tennessee Republican campaign reportedly paid felon son $300,000

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr., shown here in 2009, came under fire in July after reports that his campaign had made $300,000 in payments to his son, who pleaded guilty in 2013 to a felony charge of official misconduct. 

The House Ethics Committee acknowledged Tuesday an investigation of Rep. John Duncan Jr, a scion of a Tennessee political dynasty who announced his retirement in July. 

Duncan, a Republican, came under fire that month after reports that his campaign paid his son, John Duncan III, almost $300,000. In the five years since the younger Duncan pleaded guilty to a felony charge of official misconduct. Those payments were made in monthly installments of $6,000 recorded as salary expenses, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. 

Duncan acknowledged the payments in a 2017 statement to the Knoxville paper and said that they were not improper. 

“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, according to the paper.

Duncan released a statement Tuesday.

“Every expenditure I have ever made out of my campaign funds has been done to help me politically and to assist in my campaigns,” Duncan said in a statement Tuesday. “That is what campaign funds are for.”

Duncan III was a county trustee in 2013 when he pleaded guilty to approving bonuses for himself and six members of his staff for completing a training program that none of them had, in fact, completed, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. He later lied to investigators, saying he did not know it was improper to award the money before the training was completed. He served one year of probation.

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The Ethics Committee received a Jan. 4 referral regarding Duncan from the Office of Congressional Ethics, an outside agency charged with reviewing ethics allegations against House members, the announcement said. The Committee did not provide additional details.

Under House rules, 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 determine a final course of action and release an OCE report detailing that office’s investigation. 

A member of the Duncan family has represented the Knoxville-based 2nd district for five straight decades. Duncan Jr. began his house service in 1988, after his father, John J. Duncan, died in office.

Kelly Brewington, an OCE spokeswoman, said the office does not comment on pending matters.

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