Facing a re-election battle against a well-financed opponent, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee’s Fourth District significantly ramped up his spending on taxpayer-funded communications with constituents during the first three months of 2016, reports Michael Collins.
DesJarlais’ congressional office spent nearly $67,000 reaching out to constituents through online ads, surveys and other mass communications, according to House expenditure reports made public last week.
DesJarlais serves a winding district stretching from some of Nashville’s southeastern suburbs south to the Alabama line before wrapping outside Chattanooga and twisting through cities like Dayton and Cleveland.
The three-term congressman spent more on such materials than any other House Republican and all but two House Democrats. The amount also was more than quadruple what the other eight Tennesseans in the House spent combined.
The only House members who outspent DesJarlais were Pedro Pierluisi, a Democrat representing Puerto Rico, and Chaka Fattah, a Pennsylvania Democrat who lost his re-election battle in April and is on trial for federal corruption charges. Pierluisi spent $164,000 and Fattah spent $129,000.
DesJarlais’ office says the jump in his spending wasn’t motivated by political considerations, but by a need to hear what his constituents are thinking.
“The congressman spends a lot of money communicating with his constituents — that’s something we will never apologize for,” said DesJarlais’ spokesman, Robert Jameson. “We have a large district, and it’s hard to be everywhere, so he relies on communications with constituents to take the pulse of the district on key issues.”
But a spokesman for DesJarlais’ most serious Republican challenger, Murfreesboro attorney Grant Starrett, accused the congressman of using taxpayer dollars to boost his campaign.
“Scott DesJarlais is clearly spending Tennesseans’ hard-earned tax dollars to fund his re-election campaign, plain and simple,” Starrett spokesman Tommy Schultz said. “No other Tennessee member, Republican or Democrat, is spending taxpayer dollars like DesJarlais is.”
…Jameson also noted that the congressman’s office has returned tens of thousands of unused tax dollars to the federal Treasury every year DesJarlais has been in office. As of last year, the amount returned totaled more than $717,000.
“Yes, we spend a lot of money on communications,” Jameson said, “but we balance that by cutting in other areas, so we are continuing to give money back to the Treasury.”
UPDATE/Note: The Starrett campaign lists other Tennessee congressmen’s spending for the quarter in a news release citing the News Sentinel article:
Here are the Mass Communications disbursements with taxpayer dollars for TN Members of Congress from January 1 – March 31, 2016:
1. Scott DesJarlais – $66,639.50
2. Diane Black $5,432.80
3. Steve Cohen $2,890.96
4. Phil Roe $2,743.90
5. Marsha Blackburn $2,600.00
6. Chuck Fleischmann $2,021
7. Jimmy Duncan $0
8. Jim Cooper $0
9. Stephen Fincher $0
Here’s Schultz’ quote from the news release: In an abuse of power, Scott DesJarlais is clearly spending Tennesseans’ hard-earned tax dollars to fund his re-election campaign, plain and simple. No other Tennessee member, Republican or Democrat, is spending taxpayer dollars like DesJarlais is. DesJarlais is scared that Grant Starrett’s campaign is knocking on thousands of doors each day, exposing DesJarlais’ bad votes in DC from the past six years. So now DesJarlais is pumping our taxdollars into a re-election campaign. DesJarlais spent more than every single other Republican Member of Congress and was only beat out by 2 Democrats — one named Chaka Fattah from Pennsylvania who is on trial for racketeering charges for using federal tax dollars inappropriately, and the other is Pedro Pierluisi, the non-voting commissioner from Puerto Rico. DesJarlais has clearly abused the power and responsibility of the people’s seat, a common sickness that grows on too many of the political class in DC.”