Big Spender? 

Blackburn's travel raises eyebrows

Blackburn's travel raises eyebrows

State Sen. Marsha Blackburn, an outspoken foe of tax reform and a critic of state spending, burned her expense receipts from a trip to California in 1995 when she was executive director of the state’s Film, Entertainment, and Music Commission. A baggie filled with gray ashes is stapled to a manila folder on file in the Department of Economic and Community Development. A note is attached to then-ECD Commissioner Bill Dunavant saying, “Copy of LA expense report as requested.”

Dunavant, who was Blackburn’s boss, says he asked for the expense report because she hired a limousine to whirl her about Los Angeles on the trip.

“She had what I thought were some excessive expenses, and I questioned her on them,” Dunavant told the Scene. “She rented a limousine with a driver, and I questioned that and asked her why that was necessary, why she didn’t just rent a car and drive herself. That was the issue.”

Blackburn, a Brentwood Republican, denies she rented a limo. She says she actually hired an unemployed actor to drive her around Los Angeles, and that he charged her less than it would have cost to rent a car.

“I didn’t have a limo, absolutely not,” she insists. “It was a little car.”

She says Dunavant’s recollection is wrong. Since she burned the receipts, we’ll never know.

Blackburn has become a darling of conservative talk radio during the debate over state tax reform. She says state government is wasteful and calls for scrutinizing “every penny” of spending. In her latest news release, she condemns the governor’s tax plan as a “monster” and a “money grab.”

But administration officials say she seemed less concerned about spending as she traveled for the film commission, ostensibly to recruit producers to make movies in Tennessee. One aide to the governor says Blackburn went “bat-shit” and “threw a fit” when the state refused to pay for her to travel to the Cannes Film Festival in France.

Blackburn was allowed to go to that festival in 1996. She charged the state $3,200 in expenses. From February 1995 to October 1997, when she was the commission’s director, she ran up expenses of $40,545, not including allowances for meals and incidentals ranging up to $100 a day.

Blackburn defends her travel, saying she saved 15 percent of her budget while she was in the job. She says she paid for her Los Angeles trip out of her own pocket after burning her receipts.

“I spent less than my predecessor and less than my successor,” she says. “We watched very carefully how we spent money in that office.”


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