Tennessee House Speaker’s multiple homes raise questions about per diem

Property records show Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton owns a home in Nashville and Crossville

By: - April 18, 2023 6:00 am
Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (Photo: John Partipilo)

Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (Photo: John Partipilo)

As the national media spotlight focuses on Tennessee Republicans, House Speaker Cameron Sexton is drawing attention for having multiple homes and using his per diem expenses for a Nashville house. 

Popular Information, a progressive news outlet on Substack, published several document-backed articles showing Sexton’s wife purchased a $600,000 home in Nashville around the same time the couple downsized from a house to a condo in their hometown of Crossville.

Sexton’s wife purchased the Nashville home through a trust shielding the owner’s true identity, but signatures and a bank note point to the Sextons owning the home, according to the report. The outlet also reported Sexton’s daughter goes to a Nashville area school, potentially showing that the family lives in the city year-round.

Sexton confirmed to his hometown paper the Crossville Chronicle that he owns a Nashville home and that’s where his daughter attends school. He added it’s easier for him to conduct state business by owning a home in Nashville, but that he spends weekends, summers and school break in Crossville.

His home ownership has cast doubt over whether Sexton, R-Crossville, should be allowed to claim the full $313 in per diem expenses allowed to lawmakers who live outside Nashville. 

Sexton told reporters last week he lives in Crossville and noted he has not claimed payments for mileage.  

“As you know, we’re here five months out of the year and then we go back on the weekends and so forth,” Sexton said. “But I live in Crossville. My home’s in Crossville.”

The Tennessee House requires members to be residents in the districts they cover. 

Sexton and state House Republicans have been under the microscope of national media over the past three weeks for trying to expel three Democrats members over protests of gun violence. 

The members took over the House speaking podium to demand action on guns after six were killed — including three children — in a mass shooting at a school in Nashville.

Should Sexton have been allowed to claim the full $313 in per diem expenses?

The other concern brought to light is the state’s per diem system and whether a lawmaker who owns multiple homes inside and outside the Nashville area has the right to claim the maximum per diem expense. 

Under state law, lawmakers who live 50 miles outside Nashville can claim $313 tax-free for each day they spend working at the State Capitol, whether during the legislative session or another time of the year. Those who live within 50 miles of Nashville can claim only $79 in per diem expenses. 

The per diem is meant to cover meals, lodging and incidental expenses. Lawmakers outside Nashville get more because they’re expected to stay in Nashville, which can cost several hundred dollars a night. 

Sexton’s multiple homes raise questions on whether he should be allowed to claim the full $313. In 2021 and 2022, he claimed around $78,000 in per diem expenses, enough money to potentially cover his mortgage. 

As Speaker, Sexton likely spends considerably more time in Nashville than the average lawmaker. For example, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, claimed roughly $59,000 in per diem over the same two-year period as Sexton. 

Lawmakers are also allowed to claim mileage, but Sexton didn’t file any expenses related to car travel, a point he’s emphasized. 

“There was no reimbursement for mileage,” Sexton said. “My home’s in Crossville, and those per diems reflect that.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Senior Reporter Sam Stockard contributed to this article.

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Adam Friedman
Adam Friedman

Adam Friedman is a reporter with the Tennessee Lookout. He has a particular love for data and using numbers to explain all kinds of topics. If you have a story idea, he'd love to hear it. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 615-249-8509.