iPhone-or-health-care lawmaker spent $3,000 of donors' money at Apple store in '16

House ethics rules let representatives use campaign funds for 'handheld communication devices'

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) used campaign funds last year to pay nearly $3,000 for goods and services at a Salt Lake City Apple store, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records.

Earlier this week, the Utah congressman had suggested that Americans choose between buying an iPhone or paying for health care. When CNN host Alisyn Camerota pointed out that access to health care for low-income Americans was not the same as providing coverage, Chaffetz responded: "Americans have choices, and they've got to make a choice. So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care. They've got to make those decisions themselves."

From the expenses submitted to the FEC by "Friends of Jason Chaffetz," the lawmaker's campaign committee, Chaffetz did not have to make that choice.

In five instances last year, Chaffetz, or one of his staff, used funds from the committee to pay for purchases at the Apple store in Salt Lake's City Creek Center. The amounts ranged from $32.01 to $1,550.08 -- totaling $2,866.81 -- with the purchases made between March 25 and Oct. 2.

Chaffetz's use of campaign funds to shop at the Apple store was not illegal or against House rules. Mobile phones, in fact, are specifically called out as allowable in guidelines published by the House Committee on Ethics. "It is permissible for a Member to acquire a 'handheld communications device' (e.g., a cell phone, a BlackBerry, or a combination cell phone/BlackBerry device, and associated communications services) with campaign funds, and to use the device on an unlimited basis on both campaign matters and official House matters," the guidelines state.

Caveats, not surprisingly, abound. Such devices may not be used to solicit campaign contributions while the user is in the Capitol, a House office building, or a district office. Nor may they be used for personal calls. And campaign funds may only be used to buy what the guidelines term "handheld communication devices."

The latter would seem to preclude Chaffetz -- and colleagues in the House and Senate -- from using campaign funds to purchase, say, a MacBook Pro at that Apple store. (Even so, a September 2015 transaction at the same Apple store, for $998.28, was tagged as "COMPUTER" in the FEC filing.)

The $738.08 purchase made in mid-July may have been an iPhone 6S, although the $649 price of that device, even with Utah and Salt Lake City's sales tax, could not account for the full amount. Or it may have been a $599 9.7-in. iPad Pro tablet with an additional $99 for an AppleCare plan. Yet the tablet purchase, with tax, would have exceeded the $738 by several dollars.

Later Tuesday, Chaffetz acknowledged that "maybe I didn't say it as smoothly as I possibly could," but stood by his comment that people face a choice.

chafftez copy FEC

One of six purchases at a Salt Lake City Apple store paid for with donor's money was this March 2016 transaction for $1,550.

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