Responding to the revelation that the IRS had tacked federal tax liens on his personal and business finances totaling more than $24,000, 4th District congressional candidate Eric Stewart said Monday that attacks from his opponent regarding the matter were "nothing more than a smokescreen" to turn voters away from issues that matter to them.
Stewart, who is challenging Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais in November's general election, did not pay the entirety of his federal personal and income taxes in either 2002 or 2011. The fact was revealed in a Chattanooga Times Free Press report last weekend.
In an interview with Nooga.com Monday, Stewart did not deny any facts reported and said the liens were the result of his formerly owned insurance agency falling on "hard times." Although he declined to specify the reason for his financial troubles, Stewart said he intended to have all his owed monies repaid within the next year.
"In small business, sometimes there are good times, and sometimes there are bad times," he said. "I fell on some bad times and got behind. We did work toward solutions. I'm on a monthly installment plan, and we'll see that the debt is fully paid—with all penalties and interest."
The DesJarlais campaign wasted no time attacking Stewart for the newly reported facts on his past.
Suggesting the liens indicated Stewart would not be a good steward of taxpayer funds, Brandon Lewis, spokesman for DesJarlais, also pointed to a $100 fine slapped on Stewart's 2008 state Senate campaign for not filing the entirety of receipts on expenditures with state election officials.
"Eric Stewart can't manage his personal finances, business finances, state campaign finances or federal campaign finances," Lewis said. "If past performance is the best predictor of future behavior, taxpayers can bet Eric Stewart would manage their tax dollars in the same fashion he manages his own—poorly."
Stewart responded, arguing he had experience in solid financial management as a former Franklin County commissioner and senator for Tennessee's 14th Senate District.
"In the state Senate, I worked across the aisle to balance eight budgets," Stewart said. "Congressman DesJarlais has never balanced a budget. At the end of the day, this is a smokescreen because he realizes we're on his heels. He realizes we're talking about issues that matter to voters and that he's wrong on those issues. We're going to talk about issues that matter."
Stewart, who trails DesJarlais by more than $500,000 in campaign cash-on-hand as of the most recent reporting, pointed to DesJarlais' recent rejection of an invitation to debate three times. The candidate said he would have been willing to answer any questions from the candidate regarding his tax history in a public forum.
"When you run for office, your life is an open book," he said.