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Viral fundraising catapults Dem over Chaffetz

First Published      Last Updated Apr 19 2017 05:53 pm


New reports » First-time candidate rides frustration over Trump and health care bill to claim more money than five-term incumbent.

Democrat and first-time candidate Kathryn Allen has leapfrogged Rep. Jason Chaffetz in nearly every metric of campaign fundraising: She raised more money, received contributions from more people and, after expenses, has more cash available to spend.

So far this year, she raised nearly $400,000 more than the five-term Republican congressman, according to first quarter filings due Saturday, leaving her with $534,300 in her account. For the quarter, Chaffetz collected about $176,500. He has $402,700 in cash on hand.

Unlike Chaffetz, small donors provided most of the Allen's money for the 2018 race. Of the total $564,000 that she collected, 88 percent came from folks who donated no more than $200.




When receiving donations of more than $200, candidates must report who gave, how much they gave and when. Of those bigger, itemized donations to Allen — some $66,300 — about 82 percent came from people outside of Utah. Boasting of 15,194 donors, Allen said she got at least one contribution from a resident in every state (as well as some foreign funds, which, according to campaign finance law, had to be returned).

None of Allen's contributions came from political action committees (PACs), though a few celebrities, including Nancy Sinatra, donated.

"I think people underestimate me and underestimate other Democrats," said Allen, a 63-year-old physician and resident of Cottonwood Heights.

Her campaign went viral in early March when in less than a week, Allen went from $20,000 in an exploratory account to declaring her candidacy with $410,000 in donations. The reason for the spike? Chaffetz appeared on national television and remarked that "rather than get that new iPhone," low-income Americans may have to prioritize spending on health care. Though he later sought to clarify the comment, angry people from across the country jumped on the fundraising site CrowdPac and flooded Allen with money.

It also catapulted Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, into action. The congressman had raised just $29,550 from the start of the year until the end of February. Then, beginning on March 6, his fundraising picked up significantly. He collected $123,050 in the last three weeks of the reporting period.

His campaign seized on Allen's success, sending emails to constituents encouraging them to rally around him. The messages warned that "this campaign is going to be unlike any other that I've ever seen," and some focused on Rosie O'Donnell, a television star who has feuded with President Donald Trump in the past.

Chaffetz, with an active campaign team, spent all of the money he raised in the quarter and dipped into his reserves for $6,000 more. Still, he said his $402,700 in the bank is "plenty."

"We're right where we need to be," Chaffetz said. "This has never been a problem for me. The election is still a long time away."

None of the five Democrats that Chaffetz has faced and demolished since his first win in 2008 spent more than $60,000, and the congressman also has never captured less than 65 percent of the vote in his largely Republican district. Allen's well-funded candidacy is unique and so is Chaffetz's dipping approval ratings. Just 52 percent of Chaffetz's constituents — far below previous ratings — approve of his performance, according to a March poll from Utah Policy.

Allen looks to capitalize on that "dissatisfaction," particularly the tumult following the congressman's town hall in February and what residents see as unmet demands for him to investigate Trump as the House Oversight Committee chairman.

"The game has changed," Allen said. "I think [my donations] reflect sentiments against the direction our government is going — and Chaffetz is a big part of that."

Her experience in politics is limited to a three-year stint as a congressional aide in California, where she grew up, and two years spent working on a county housing program in the 1970s. She has worked as a doctor in Utah since the 1980s.

Other contenders in the congressional race include Republican Damian Kidd , who collected $15,500 in the first quarter and has spent all but $1,590 of it.

Chaffetz may also face a conservative challenge from former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin (who said he might run against Chaffetz or Sen. Orrin Hatch).

McMullin raised $5,000 and has $10,169 in cash on hand, though his presidential account also shows a debt of nearly $670,000.

ctanner@sltrib.com

 

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