California cash gives Starrett money lead over DesJarlais

Republican Grant Starrett outraised U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., by a 10-to-1 margin during the second quarter for his 4th Congressional District challenge to the congressman in the GOP’s 2016 primary, reports the Times-Free Press.

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.

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.

UPDATE/NOTE: Mike Hart — a DesJarlais fan and former Franklin County Republican chairman who is one of the few folks I know who finds recreational value in reviewing campaign finance disclosures (and is very good at it) — says via email that he has “dissected” the Starrett disclosure. His findings, cut and pasted from the email:

First, I found that the amount he raised is only $483,277 when Starrett’s personal contribution of $23,400 and loan of $226,561 to his campaign are deducted. I then examined where that money actually came from.

Of 303 individual contributors other than Starrett, only 33 reside in Tennessee and those 33 only contributed $24,950 of the total $483,277 in individual contributions. That tells me that only 11% of his contributors and only about 5% of his money is coming from the State that he seeks to serve. Also, only one of the 33 TN contributors lives in the TN 4th District. That person’s $1,000 donation represents .3% (yes, point 3%) of the individual contributions to his campaign although Starrett continues to boast about his grass roots support. Where is the rest of the money coming from?

A large percentage of his contributors (48%) live in California. A total of 147 “left coast individuals” contributed $267,075 to his campaign. That is 55% of the total individual contributions to his campaign. Their average contribution was $1,817 which compares to the average of $756 from his small contingent of Tennessee supporters. At that point in my research I was also not really surprised to find that 109 of those 147 California contributors are clustered in the Los Angeles metro area. They come from cities like Malibu, Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, Pasadena, etc.; individuals from cities that in my opinion have little in common with the conservative mindset of folks like me here in conservative leaning central Tennessee.

A question we need to ask ourselves here in the 4th District is why are people like those 147 Californians so interested in a congressional seat so far away from their home state of California?