Democrat Roy Herron hammered Republican Stephen Fincher over his lack of transparency on finances in the 8th District congressional race Tuesday, and before the day was over Democratic Rep. John Tanner, whom the two are trying to replace, voiced his own concern about the issue.
For his part, Fincher told a Nashville radio program Herron was guilty of "false attacks" in the campaign.
Tanner, who decided not to run again, said the district could be "embarrassed" by the matter after the election, because the issue isn't likely to go away.
Herron held a press conference in Nashville and pointed to the mysterious nature of a $250,000 loan made to Fincher's campaign, his concern that Fincher listed no value for his farm business, that Fincher did not list any other assets and said that Fincher was hiding information by refusing to release his tax returns. Herron said documents show Fincher owes a combined total in personal and business debt of over $6 million.
Herron said if Fincher has willfully violated the law on disclosure he has committed a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
"If Stephen Fincher is offended by my stating these facts, let him man up, stand up and meet me in a public place and prove me wrong," Herron said.
Tanner held a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon and said he was worried about how the matter might play out. He said it was not about whom he wanted to win the race. Fincher and Herron are joined in the race by independents Donn Janes and Mark Rawles.
"I'm concerned about the race to succeed me in this job, which has been one where people who aspire to it were open and transparent and forthcoming about their situations," Tanner said.
"This is not a trivial matter, as many of you know. In fact, on the face of the filings through the Clerk of the House and the disclosure on the loan, this is potentially a serious situation."
Tanner said Fincher could clear up the entire matter by providing more information immediately.
"No matter who takes my place, this is beyond politics," Tanner said.
Herron and Tanner each said separately Tanner had not coordinated his conference call in any way with the Herron campaign and that Tanner was acting independently. Each of the two said, however, they had talked in the past about the financial disclosure issue.
Fincher was a guest Tuesday morning in the third hour of conservative talk show host Steve Gill's program, two hours before Herron's press conference. Gill said on the air that once the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pulled funds from helping Herron's campaign that Herron announced he would not support Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi by voting for her for the leadership position.
"Desperate people with their desperate things," Fincher said in response to Gill. "Roy Herron is losing, and he's losing pretty bad now. I think he will do whatever he thinks he can do to win."
Herron, however, said in his press conference that once he made his remark about Pelosi, it was then that the funds were pulled, saying "either it was related or an amazing coincidence."
The Hill, a Washington publication, recently published a poll showing Fincher ahead in the race by 10 percentage points -- 47-37 -- with 14 percent undecided.
"He's not being straightforward," Herron said of Fincher. "The fundamental issue in this campaign really is about character."
Herron said Fincher had been held under wraps by his "D.C. handlers."
"He has hidden more than Charlie Rangel," Herron said. Rangel, a Democrat who represents a New York district in the House, is the subject of an ethics investigation and his case will be before the House Ethics Committee in November.
Herron began his remarks in the press conference by saying, "Stephen Fincher's first official act in Congress could be to defend himself before the House Ethics Committee. His first investigation could be conducted by the U.S. Attorney's office for the Justice Department."
Attorneys siding with Herron have filed a complaint against Fincher with the Federal Election Commission and sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney's office in Memphis regarding Fincher's campaign disclosures.
While Herron has characterized Fincher's loan as mysterious, he cited a news story in which Warren Nunn, president of the Bank of Gates, said his bank gave Fincher the loan. A primary Herron concern is that there is no documentation of collateral for the loan and he suggests that absent collateral it would constitute an illegal corporate campaign contribution.
Fincher derided Herron's complaints in the campaign and made a reference to Herron's book, God and Politics.
"If the only way I can win is to write a book and mail a book out explaining how I'm a Christian and then on the other hand falsely attack the character of my opponent, if that's the only way Stephen Fincher can win, then I won't win," Fincher said on Gill's program. "That's not what this is about. This is about the issues."
Fincher said the goal is to stop a liberal agenda in Washington, and his final remarks on the program with Gill were, "We're staying on message. We're staying above the fray. We're focused on jobs, the economy and on (the issue of) Washington doesn't know best. We're not going to get in the gutter. We're just not going to do that."
Herron said, "I suspect when all the dust settles we're going to find that that loan was not secured as the law requires and that's why he's refusing to turn it over. If he's got a good explanation, if it's done legally and legitimately and all he has to do is show it, I'd rather be talking about jobs and fiscal responsibility."
Tanner said of Fincher's disclosure, "I don't remember any filing that is as woefully inadequate as the paperwork I've seen filed with the clerk."