NASHVILLE — While 4th Congressional District candidate Grant Starrett is touting the $313,000 he's raised this year for his GOP primary bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, his latest finance report shows nearly 80 percent of that sum came from a loan he made to his campaign.
The 28-year-old attorney's $250,000 loan to the campaign is his second, for a total of $476,561. He also put $23,400 of in-kind support into the campaign last year. All told, of the $1.23 million he says he's raised for the campaign, 40.6 percent came from his own pocket.
While legal, the loans and in-kind contributions listed on Starrett's latest Federal Election Commission report drew renewed charges from the DesJarlais camp that Starrett is gaining little traction among district voters and is relying on his wealthy family's money and ties to "buy" the seat.
Starrett's campaign, meanwhile, is returning fire, hitting DesJarlais' political action committee contributions and saying Starrett has gotten far more "grass-roots" contributions — those from donors giving under $200 — than DesJarlais.
The FEC reports showed Starrett had $908,000 in cash and DesJarlais had $346,000 as of March 31.
The two are battling in one of the most widely watched GOP congressional primaries of 2016. DesJarlais is seeking to fend off Starrett's challenge after a razor-thin, 38-vote primary victory over Jim Tracy in 2014. DesJarlais, a physician and abortion opponent, was haunted by revelations from an earlier divorce that he urged a former patient he'd slept with to get an abortion and went along with his then-wife having two abortions.
DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson charged Starrett's latest FEC disclosure "proves Grant has absolutely no ties to the Fourth District and his deceitful attacks are simply not resonating."
"Tennesseans see Grant for what he is: a rich kid from Beverly Hills who has never held a real job and is now using his parents' money to try and buy a congressional seat," Jameson added. "Further, his establishment views simply do not align with the conservative values held in Tennessee's Fourth District."
Starrett campaign manager Tommy Schultz countered in an email, "given Congressman DesJarlais' support for Donald Trump, I am sure he'll appreciate the attraction of a candidate not beholden to special interests who can self-finance his campaign."
Schultz touted the $42,465 that Starrett has collected from donors giving under $200, compared to $13,440 for DesJarlais. Those donors' names don't have to be reported.
"Grant spends every day knocking on doors here in Tennessee — so it should be no surprise he has raised three times as much from small dollar donors while DesJarlais has raised 34 times as much from lobbyists," Schultz said.
DesJarlais "may not be too familiar with regular voters anymore since he only shows up in the district to collect checks and raises the rest of his money from the D.C. establishment like Kevin McCarthy and John Boehner, his biggest PAC donors ever," Schultz scoffed. Boehner is the former House speaker and McCarthy, R-Calif., is the House majority leader.
Retorted Jameson: "We will concede that Grant has much better grass-roots support in Beverly Hills, Calif., but his campaign has gained no traction in Tennessee. If Grant truly had grassroots support in the Fourth District, he would not have had to loan his campaign half a million dollars."
Starrett's disclosure form listed 64 individuals who gave more than $200, including 20 from Tennessee.
Just two appeared to have addresses within the 4th District: a Starrett campaign field consultant, Jacob Way, and a Bryan College professor in Dayton, Tenn.
Contributors outside the 4th District included Starrett's campaign chairman, Lee Beaman, owner of Nashville-based Beaman Automotive Group and an influential conservative voice in Middle Tennessee Republican politics. He and his wife each gave $2,700.
Out-of-state donors included Robert May, former chief of national electronics retailer HH Gregg, who gave $2,700. Past Starrett donors have included chiefs of hedge funds and investment companies and CEOs of major corporations.
DesJarlais said he raised $136,875 in the Jan. 1-March 31 reporting period, raising his total to $484,746.
He listed $28,500 in PAC money, or 20.8 percent of his total for the period. He has raised $136,220 from PACs during the campaign to date.
Never a prolific fundraiser, DesJarlais saw his PAC take a plunge in the 2014 campaign. But this year is bringing a partial return of PAC dollars from companies and groups.
Still, most of his contributions are from individual donors, such as businessmen and small company owners, retirees and others who gave $200 or more. Many live in the district, which includes all or parts of 16 counties and extends from Cleveland in East Tennessee west to Murfreesboro and down to Columbia south of Nashville
Among them is Ransom Jones, Rutherford County's election administrator, who backed Tracy in 2014, and gun manufacturer Ronnie Barrett of Murfreesboro, a National Rifle Association board member.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com, 615-255-0550 or follow via twitter at AndySher1.