DesJarlais challenger Starrett ahead in campaign fundraising, but few contributions come from 4th District

DesJarlais challenger Starrett ahead in campaign fundraising, but few contributions come from 4th District

July 16th, 2015 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

NASHVILLE — Republican Grant Starrett's first campaign disclosure shows he has money to burn in his GOP primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn.

But it also reveals the 27-year-old attorney has hardly set the 4th Congressional District ablaze in terms of financial support.

An examination of Starrett's Federal Election Commission report, filed Wednesday, reveals Starrett had one, possibly three donors whose addresses indicate they live in the sprawling 16-county, largely rural district that stretches east from Cleveland to Murfreesboro in the west.

Of the $506,000 Starrett reported raising, at best just $1,500 came from the three donors, one of them a Cleveland businessman and the other two being a couple who live on Signal Mountain who may or may not actually live in the district.

Other figures show Starrett, a California native who attended Vanderbilt Law School and has been involved in national conservative causes, raised about $25,500 from other parts of Tennessee, including $2,700 from Nashville auto dealer Lee Beaman and another $2,700 from his wife, Kelley S. Beaman.

Grant Starrett and Scott DesJarlais are pictured in this composite photo.

Grant Starrett and Scott DesJarlais are pictured in...

Much of the remainder came from donors in California, New York and several other states.

And that quickly drew fire from DesJarlais' campaign, which reported raising just $52,270, with $37,270 of that coming mostly from Tennessee donors with a good number from the district itself. The campaign received another $15,000 from political action committees.

"It seems California is trying to buy an additional congressional district here in Tennessee," charged Robert Jameson, a DesJarlais spokesman. "I think it says a lot that our opponent raised less than 1 percent of his campaign funds from within Tennessee's Fourth Congressional District."

Jameson said that "clearly, [Starrett's] campaign is not gaining momentum in Tennessee and as a result he has turned to his wealthy political establishment friends in California and New York to fund his efforts to buy this seat."

In response, the Starrett campaign released a statement calling it "no surprise that Scott DesJarlais is so embarrassed by his meager financial support that he resorts to political doublespeak: Nearly half of DesJarlais' fundraising total this quarter came from out-of-state political action committees."

In fact, the Starrett campaign countered, "DesJarlais' single largest political action committee contributor over his career is [U.S. House] Speaker John Boehner's PAC, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars."

The challenger, who moved to Murfreesboro earlier this year, also loaned his campaign $226,561 and gave another $23,400 in in-kind funds for polling.

After spending $79,896, Starrett had $653,342 in cash on hand. DesJarlais reported spending $34,619 and had $161,731 in the bank, giving Starrett about a 4-to-1 edge.

Efforts to contact Cleveland businessman Bob Card, owner of Easy Auto Inc., who gave $1,000 to Starrett's campaign, were unsuccessful. Cleveland is in the 4th District. Giving $250 each were Phil Downer of Signal Mountain, president of the Discipleship Network of American, and Susy Downer.

Downer said he was running late for an appointment and unable to speak. Portions of Signal Mountain are in Hamilton County and the 3rd Congressional District. But other parts are in Sequatchie County and the 4th District. It was unclear in which county the Downers live.

Principals and high-level employees at the Los Angeles-based private equity firm, Freeman Spogli & Co., meanwhile, contributed $35,450 to the Starrett campaign, FEC filings show.

Starrett's Tennessee donors include Thomas Schultz of Nashville, communications director for the Tennessee Federation for Children, who gave $2,800; and Fred Dettwiller of Nashville, president of DET Distributors, who gave $2,700. A PAC of state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, gave $1,000.

DesJarlais donors included Anita Tinsley of Estill Springs, which is part of the 4th District, who contributed $2,000; Dr. Robert Childress, a dentist in Sewanee, also in the 4th, who gave $1,000; and businessman David Mayfield of McMinnville, who gave $2,700.

The Automotive Dealers Association PAC was among several PACS giving to DesJarlais, contributing $2,500 to the congressman.

DesJarlais' fundraising suffered in 2014 after the late 2012 release of court divorce transcripts revealing that during his pre-Congressional career, the South Pittsburg physician had affairs with patients and urged a former patient to obtain an abortion. He also agreed to two abortions by his former wife, records show.

But despite that, as well as being outspent in the 2014 GOP primary by challenger Jim Tracy, DesJarlais eked out a 38-vote victory over Tracy.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@ timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.