published Monday, December 24th, 2012

Some donors to Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais switch camps


by Chris Carroll
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R.-Tenn., exits Judge Jacqueline Bolton's courtroom.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R.-Tenn., exits Judge Jacqueline Bolton's courtroom.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Nearly two years ahead of 2014 congressional elections, campaign donors are defecting from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn.

Several members of a potential opponent's exploratory committee -- people who often are a politician's earliest and most ardent supporters -- gave money to DesJarlais in 2010 or 2012.

Last week, state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, made public the names of 16 people who will support his fundraising efforts as he decides whether to challenge DesJarlais in the 2014 GOP primary.

Records show at least four of Carr's early boosters -- including a powerful auto dealer, a physician and a former Rutherford County GOP chairman -- gave DesJarlais a combined $12,900 during his 2010 and 2012 campaigns for Congress.

Carr's exploratory committee is headed by auto dealer Lee Beaman, a big fish in Middle Tennessee Republican circles who has given $7,400 to DesJarlais.

Asked about his $2,000 DesJarlais contribution this year, Murfreesboro dentist Dr. Nate Schott said he cut a check "long before I found out what happened."

Other DesJarlais donors also have reconsidered since explosive disclosures changed the congressman's public image.

A Jasper physician who touts anti-abortion views, DesJarlais was re-elected in November despite revelations he had sexual relationships with two patients and urged one to seek an abortion in 2000. After his re-election, court testimony emerged showing he supported his ex-wife's abortions and had affairs with patients and several colleagues while chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center.

"As a reflection on the medical profession, it's not something that needs to happen," Schott said. "I'm saddened by it all."

Six political action committees connected to the health industry that gave to DesJarlais in the past have confirmed to the Chattanooga Times Free Press they won't help his future efforts. The groups gave a combined $13,000 in 2012.

DesJarlais spent $1.26 million on his re-election, depleting his current campaign balance to $16,000, records show.

Campaign manager Brandon Lewis has said: "We are confident that we will continue to receive support from like-minded conservatives and small-business organizations."

But Dr. Ron McDow, a retired family medicine physician and owner of a medical device company, said he regrets the $1,000 he contributed in 2010. He's in Carr's camp now.

"I haven't read everything that's been published, and these things all occurred well before Dr. DesJarlais ran for Congress," McDow said. "But Joe Carr doesn't have the baggage hanging over him."

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