Philpot soft-peddles Matheson's donations | Buzz Blog

Philpot soft-peddles Matheson's donations

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ShopVac Jim continues to suck-up donations without clogging.---

It's difficult to decide whether Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, should be applauded for his insistence on accepting donations from anyone and everyone, even when rejecting them would be politically expedient, or if he should be booed because, well, he accepts donations from anyone and everyone. (I give him a "Miss" this week for this practice, but I'm still conflicted.)

Case in point: This week, Matheson has refused to return $1,000 in contributions from BP and said he already spent money given to him by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who is facing an ethics investigation because of, among other things, tax fraud and junkets to the Caribbean paid for by lobbyists. He also attended a fundraising luncheon in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Interstate Natural Gas Association , that included representatives of multiple energy companies.

Matheson has long maintained that donations don't influence his decisions in Congress, yet political opponents continue to make them an issue (as happens with many incumbents). Claudia Wright tried to do it during the Democratic primary, but the message didn't seem to generate the legs she hoped. That may explain why his Republican opponent, Morgan Philpot, is not currently making the donations a big deal.

Instead, Philpot seems to be focusing his campaign message on Matheson's distance as a representative, specifically his use of conference calls with constituents in lieu of town hall meetings. When it comes to donations, Philpot is saying that he will focus his fundraising efforts on individuals, but he is not taking any sort of a "no PAC money" stand. (On a side note, when a politician is not opposed to PACs but says they are focusing on individuals for donations, it is usually because they have not had success raising money from PACs. In only rare cases does a lot of individual contributions actually indicate a broader, grassroots swell of support.)

When asked Tuesday about Matheson's donations, Philpot's campaign manager Lyall Swim said that the donations taken by Matheson are a concern. "When you have a candidate where nearly 90 percent of their funding comes from out-of-state PACs, how can anyone say he is putting Utah first? Where is the local support?"

As for making it a campaign issue, Swim said that "it's something we will talk about, but we also will be looking at the issues." 

If Philpot were to make the donations an issue, he would likely not have a very high ground to seize. While Wright was able to tout her opposition to money from PACs she did not agree with ideologically and her general disgust with corporate influence in elections, Philpot has already accepted money from the likes of EnergySolutions.

 Matheson's spokeswoman, Alyson Heyrend, said that even if Philpot tried to make the donations an issue—especially the Rangel donations, as national Republicans are trying to do with Democrats broadly—it would not resonate with voters. "Matheson has often been attacked for receiving support from members of Congress. It is Matheson's name on the ballot, not Rangel's."

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