R. Todd Neilson, who faces Merrill Cook in the Republican 2nd Congressional District primary election, Thursday challenged Cook to spend only $100,000 of his own money between now and the June 25 election.
Neilson says he will spend only $100,000 of his own money, $250,000 total in the primary race.Cook agrees to those limits, but says only if Neilson agrees to return much of the money he's been receiving from out-of-state contributors. "Our count shows (Neilson) has taken 67 percent of his contributions from out-of-state, most of that from California," contends Cook.
Cook has already spent more than $300,000 of his own money and, if history of previous Cook races is any indication, will fund much of his 2nd District race from his own pocket.
"I will be funding most of the campaign up to the primary myself," Cook said Friday. "I'm asking some personal friends for contributions, raised about $10,000. After the (primary election), if I win I expect to put very little money in myself. That is when you can raise large amounts" of cash from contributors, he said.
Federal Election Commission rules keep individual contributions to a federal race at $1,000 per election. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that under free speech guidelines a candidate can spend any amount of his own money on his race.
Just moments after squeaking into the primary against Neilson by nine votes in the state Republican Party Convention, Cook announced that he figured he'd spend about $250,000 in the primary.
Informed of that statement, Neilson seemed taken aback. He said he'd match Cook's primary spending if need be. Cook is already on local TV channels with his first ad - a 30-second spot titled: "You know what Merrill Cook will do in Congress because you know Merrill Cook."
At the convention Cook didn't agree to any spending limitation, just estimated how much he'd spend overall. Neilson, a former FBI agent who now runs a successful private certified public accounting firm, said he could afford to put more than $100,000 of his own money into the primary race but doesn't think that appropriate.
Neilson said one measure of a candidate's support is how much money he can raise from supporters. "Given that 100 percent of the people know who he is, if Cook can't raise significantly more (money) than me, he may consider it a message from the people," said Neilson.
It's almost become a Utah election year tradition for one or more candidates to issue challenges about holding down spending. Rarely, if ever, do other candidates in the race agree to such voluntary limits.
Cook has never raised much money from supporters, preferring to fund his races himself. Over the past decade, Cook has spent several million dollars on his various campaigns.