WAMP CAMPAIGN ACCOUNT
* $527,307: Beginning balance Jan. 1, 2009
* $363,965: Cash on hand June 30, 2009
Source: Federal Election Commission
NASHVILLE -- U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp donated $10,000 from his congressional campaign account to the International Foundation, a religious group also known as the Fellowship Foundation that has ties to a Christian home where he lives while in Washington, D.C., records show.
His latest federal disclosure also reveals the congressional campaign paid $22,800 last year to Rep. Wamp's wife, Kim Wamp, and another $4,091 in the first quarter of this year to handle certain campaign fundraising duties.
Overall, between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year, Rep. Wamp donated about $163,000 to various people and causes, the disclosure shows.
The practice is legal, according to the Federal Election Commission, but with the Chattanooga congressman now running for governor, Mrs. Wamp no longer will be paid from the campaign and instead is focusing full time on helping her husband's campaign, Wamp spokesman John Crisp said.
While he's not running for Congress again, that doesn't mean the gubernatorial candidate isn't dipping into his congressional fund for political purposes. Second-quarter congressional campaign disclosures show the 3rd Congressional District congressman stepping up his activity across the state, making contributions to county Republican groups far outside the 3rd District.
With regard to the International Foundation contribution, Mr. Crisp noted that the congressman is not running for re-election to Congress "and he has these excess campaign funds in his congressional campaign committee. So it's totally permissible to contribute excess campaign funds to 501(c)(3) charitable organizations."
The International Foundation organizes the national prayer breakfast, an annual event in which top leaders of the United States, including the president, seek common ground through prayer, Mr. Crisp noted.
"It's something that Zach has been involved in for a variety of years and an event he chaired in 2001," Mr. Crisp said.
But Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said he was "very concerned" about the $10,000 donation to the International Foundation due to Rep. Wamp's "unwillingness to discuss sort of what this fellowship is all about.
"Now I'm even more concerned that hard-working 3rd Congressional District citizens who contributed to Zach Wamp's campaign are funding sort of a secretive, elusive organization," Mr. Forrester said.
The foundation, also known as "The Family," recently has come under fire from some critics who say the group's leaders cater to the powerful. Author Jeff Sharlet, who wrote a book about the group, calls its beliefs a kind of "trickle-down fundamentalism" and says the man who runs it, Doug Coe, often presents Hitler, Stalin and Mao as models of leadership.
While in Washington, Rep. Wamp lives in a Christian fellowship home that has links to the Coes and the International Foundation. Several senators and congressman live or have had close ties to the center, located at 133 C. St. SE, including Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who have been engulfed in controversies over extramarital affairs.
Rep. Wamp has declined to talk about particulars of the International Foundation's theology or what goes on at the C Street Center.
The congressman's latest financial disclosures show that last year his campaign made a $1,500 contribution to the Annapolis, Md., based-Wilberforce Foundation, which IRS filings show has two of Mr. Coes' sons on its board.
Mr. Crisp noted the congressman's campaign also contributed $10,000 to Young Life of Chattanooga, a non-denominational Christian group that provides an outreach ministry to teens.
Another $9,000 went to the Rockville, Md.-based Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project, which provides sports programs for severely wounded service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and the global war on terrorism.
Other records show the congressional campaign account paying for events far outside the 3rd District such as a Feb. 24 contribution of $1,000 to the Shelby County Republican Party in Memphis.
"I just wonder how donors would feel in the 3rd Congressional District knowing funds (are) now being spread across the state to engender favors from the Shelby County Republican Party," Mr. Forrester said.
Mr. Crisp said Rep. Wamp's contributions to state and local campaign committees is a "long-standing practice ... Again, since he's not running again for Congress, he has excess campaign funds and it's legally permissible."
Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance Executive Director Drew Rawlins said that, while state law prohibits federal campaign dollars from being transferred to a state account for state office, the agency doesn't "control federal dollars" spent by a federal campaign.
"If it's an allowable expense, we don't have any say-so on it," he said.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...