FOX13 Investigates: Taxpayer dollars used by Memphis city leaders to promote political cause

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis city council approved using $40,000 to educate voters about three referendums on the November 2018 ballot.

On Wednesday, FOX13 received public records that show the city almost spent the full $40,000. And we found out that city leaders were planning this campaign before they approved the funds for it.

FOX13 obtained an itemized statement which shows Memphis city council hired the Carter-Malone Group, LLC as a consultant for its 2018 referendum campaign.

This statement shows the firm spent nearly $18,000 alone for grassroots marketing and poll workers during early voting, which ran from Oct. 17 to Nov. 1.

The city council approved the funding on Oct. 23.

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On October 26, Save IRV filed a lawsuit against the city council for the emergency funds. Four days later, a judge ruled in the council's favor.

FOX13 spoke to Carter-Malone Group president and CEO, Deidre Malone on Wednesday.

She said her company put up an advance to the cover the cost for early voting. The city reimbursed the firm from Oct. 31 to Nov. 6.

The firm also spent nearly $10,000 on TV, radio and print ads.

Some of the flyers were endorsed by individual city council members but not the city of Memphis.

The Carter-Malone Group contributed those advertising funds to the Diversity Memphis PAC-- a private PAC that wanted to repeal instant runoff voting.

“They were straight forward one-sided advocacy, they did not seek to inform the voters in any detail of what the referendums meant or why they might be good or bad. They just said vote yes for repeal,” said Steven Mulroy of Save IRV.

Mulroy believes this was dishonest and misled voters.

“During the campaign when people were making up their minds, they were seeing these ads but not being informed that these ads were coming from the taxpayer from the city council,” said Mulroy. “They thought it was coming from Diversity Memphis PAC.”

FOX13 spoke with Attorney Allan Wade, who represents the city council.

Wade said everything council did was ethical and legal.

“We were pushing for the repeal too,” Wade said. “What’s unfair about that? We pulled our money to get more bang for our buck – what’s wrong with that?”

FOX13 reached out to Chairman Berlin Boyd for comment, but has not yet gotten back to us.