Willingham campaign letter sent on Commission letterhead - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Willingham campaign letter sent on Commission letterhead

UPDATE AT 12:00PM WEDNESDAY: District Attorney General Bill Gibbons has agreed to look into whether a Shelby County Commissioner broke the law with a campaign mailer.

Action News Five reported Tuesday at 10pm that Commissioner John Willingham sent out a campaign letter, soliciting money for his Mayoral race, on County Commission letterhead. 
    
In a letter written Wednesday, Gibbons says he's asked his white collar crime unit to determine whether it should be forwarded to an investigative agency.  (Click here to read the letter)
    
Willingham says he used the official letterhead because it would have been thrown out at the end of his Commission term in August. 

Shelby County Commission Chairman Tom Moss says he is still working to make sure no Commission staffers were used to help with Willingham's campaign mailer.  But that he IS going to ask Willingham to reimburse for the letterhead used.  Additionally, he says that "grade" of paper stock would almost certainly have been otherwise recycled.

According to Memphis City Council staff, all paper is re-used.  Typically, after a term expires, staff will have left over letterhead - and other paper - bound into scrap notebooks for re-use.


ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 10:00PM 07/25/06:

A candidate for Shelby County's top office is under fire over a campaign mistake.  Now, one political party says his plea for your vote may be criminal.

If you work in Shelby County government, the rules are clear.  You're not allowed to use County property for personal gain.  But the rules are a little vague if you're an elected official.  And that gray area may put one County Commissioner in murky water.

Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham says he used County Commission letterhead for his campaign letters because it would have been thrown out anyway.

"Well, it was already printed," he told us.  "And it had my name on it.  And I'm not going to be a County Commissioner."

Willingham is running for County Mayor.

And he's the second of two Republicans running for office to face criticism over something like this.  Last week, we told you how some residents were angry their tax bills came with a glossy brochure from County Trustee Bob Patterson, also running in August. 

The Shelby County Democratic party is now asking for criminal investigations into the two.

In the Willingham letter - sent out on his County Commission letterhead - he openly asks for support.  On the bottom of the page, it tells you where you can send your checks.

Shelby County Attorney Brian Kuhn tells us the County Charter is vague on this, but that it does raise important questions.  "If you use any government property for private purposes, that could be a problem."

Willingham says his campaign paid for the envelopes and postage.  He says he's not worried about the criticism.  "I'd like the publicity," he says.  "Anybody that has any sense knows that we weren't trying to get away with anything."  He says the whole thing is ridiculous.

He also says that if someone thinks he's done something wrong, he's more than happy to reimburse the County.  Meanwhile, the County Attorney has sent the Commission chairman a legal opinion about this.  It's not clear what action - if any - will be taken.

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