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A Republican outsider hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, in a June primary filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday arguing the congressman has been sloppy with his campaign accounts and may have used the funds for personal gain.
Chia-Chi Teng, a Brigham Young University professor of information technology and a former Microsoft developer, is making the allegations the centerpiece of his long-shot campaign, which led to a pair of contentious speeches at the Republican State Convention last weekend.
Chaffetz, who was first elected in 2008, responded to the FEC complaint Wednesday, saying: "This is a baseless attention-grabbing move by an ill-advised opponent. My campaign's reports and practices are thoroughly vetted by certified public accountants and outside counsel."
Teng, in the six-page letter, is alleging that Chaffetz is getting an unfair personal benefit by using a personal Delta SkyMiles American Express card for many campaign purchases, including frequent flights and hotel rooms, and then getting reimbursed from the campaign. Those personal SkyMiles are a benefit that should go to the campaign, not to Chaffetz personally, Teng said.
He estimated that Chaffetz had piled up a half-million SkyMiles, saying they had a value of $17,500.
"Essentially, what we are witnessing appears to be a reimbursement process on a massive scale, resulting in a percentage of campaign contributions being available to Mr. Chaffetz for his own personal use," he said. "This isn't fair to donors, and this isn't fair to the American taxpayer."
Teng called for Chaffetz to disclose roughly $77,000 in reimbursements that fall below the FEC's threshold of $200 per vendor.
He criticized Chaffetz for buying two campaign vehicles, but never reimbursing for personal or government use. "This strains credulity," Teng wrote in his letter.
He also questioned the legitimate campaign purpose of hotel rooms in D.C., where Chaffetz often stays with his wife. Chaffetz has said the campaign pays for those rooms, only when his wife is in town for a campaign-related event.
In a new allegation, Teng pointed to $1,690 Chaffetz paid Rock Chalk Media, run by Alex Chaffetz, the congressman's brother.
The money covered Alex Chaffetz's expenses during the congressman's brief run for House speaker last fall. Jason Chaffetz said there was nothing wrong with hiring his brother for a legitimate campaign expense.
Chaffetz is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He received 64 percent of the delegate vote at Saturday's convention, but because Teng collected enough signatures, the two will face off in a June 28 primary.
Chaffetz sent a letter to those Republican delegates, which in part said: "Lacking any record in public service and unable to distinguish himself on the issues, [Teng] has resorted to desperate flailing at my character. Let me make three things clear about these baseless allegations: They are false; they are malicious; they are intended to deceive delegates and primary voters."
For his part, Teng said that Chaffetz, as chairman of the oversight committee investigating many federal agencies, should "exhibit impeccable judgment in the issuance of his own campaign reports if he is going to question the highest branches of government."