Jason Chaffetz

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Jason Chaffetz
Jason Chaffetz, official portrait, 111th Congress.jpg
Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Preceded by Darrell Issa
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Utah's 3rd district
Assumed office
January 3, 2009
Preceded by Chris Cannon
Personal details
Born (1967-03-26) March 26, 1967 (age 48)
Los Gatos, California, U.S.
Political party Democratic (Before 1990)
Republican (1990–present)
Spouse(s) Julie Marie Johnson (1991–present)
Children 3
Alma mater Brigham Young University
Religion The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)
Website House website

Jason E Chaffetz (/ˈfts/; born March 26, 1967) is the U.S. representative for Utah's 3rd congressional district, first elected in 2008. He is a member of the Republican Party.

Early life and education[edit]

Chaffetz was born in Los Gatos, California, and was raised in Arizona and Colorado with his younger brother Alex. His father, John A. Chaffetz, was Jewish, and his mother, Margaret A. Wood,[1] was a Christian Scientist. Chaffetz converted from Judaism to Mormonism during his last year of college.[2] He attended Brigham Young University (BYU) on an athletic scholarship, and was the starting placekicker on the BYU football team in 1988 and 1989. He still holds the BYU individual records for most extra points attempted in a game, most extra points made in a game, and most consecutive extra points made in a game.[3] Chaffetz graduated from the BYU College of Fine Arts and Communications in 1989, with a B.A. in communications.[4]

While in college, Chaffetz was a Democrat. His father had previously been married to Kitty Dickson, who afterward was married to the later Democratic governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis; Chaffetz's half-brother is former actor John Dukakis.[5] Despite their different political affiliations, Chaffetz remains close to his half-brother and the Dukakis family.[6] While a student at BYU, Chaffetz was Utah co-chairman of Dukakis' 1988 presidential campaign. After college, Chaffetz worked about a decade in public relations for a multi-level marketing company, Nu Skin International.[7][8]

Early political career[edit]

Chaffetz became a Republican after meeting Ronald Reagan, in 1990, when Reagan visited Chaffetz's employer, Nu Skin, as a motivational speaker. However, his political views had been drifting more to the right even while working for Dukakis.[9]

In 2003, Chaffetz applied to be an agent in the United States Secret Service but was not accepted because "better qualified applicants existed."[10]

In 2004, Chaffetz was the campaign manager for Utah gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman. Huntsman won the race, and when he took office in January 2005, Chaffetz became Huntsman's chief of staff.[11] In November 2005, Chaffetz left that position to manage his own company, Maxtera Utah, a corporate communications and marketing company.

In 2006, Chaffetz was appointed by Huntsman as a trustee for Utah Valley State College.[12] Chaffetz has also served as a member of the Highland City planning commission and as chairman for the Utah National Guard adjutant general review.

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

Chairmanship, House Oversight & Government Reform Committee[edit]

In November 2014, Chaffetz won a four-way race to become the chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee. He was only the fifth Member of Congress in 89 years to become a full chairman after just three terms.[13] He ran on a promise to emphasize reform. “The pitch I made to the steering committee is we really have to triangulate the problem if we’re actually going to get to reform,” Chaffetz told Politico. “In order to fix the problem long term, we can’t just be the highlighter pen. We do a good job highlighting things, but we don’t do a great job of fixing things."[14]

Chaffetz has reportedly built a strong relationship with his Democratic counterpart on the committee, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD). The two visited one another's districts the summer before Chaffetz became chairman of the committee. Chaffetz's visit to Baltimore was chronicled in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, and Salt Lake Tribune.[15][16][17] When Cummings visited Utah, Chaffetz took him to Moab, Utah where he was briefed on public lands issues before flying back to the State Capitol in Salt Lake City for a meeting with Governor Herbert and a tour of the LDS Church's Welfare Square. That visit was extensively chronicled by Time Magazine and other news outlets.[18][19][20]

Upon his ascension to chairmanship, Chaffetz committed to bringing a new level of bipartisan cooperation to the committee.[21][22] That bipartisanship has played out in several investigations in which both Chaffetz and Cummings have been united in their calls for reform. Among the issues that have drawn bipartisan support are the Secret Service investigation,[23] the DEA prostitution scandal [24] and the investigation into the US Chemical Safety Board.[25] Cummings told The Hill in April 2015, “The chairman’s leadership has been a sea change from the way the committee was run in the past, primarily because he has been willing to work with Democrats and because, for the most part, he has avoided overreaching.”[26]



On January 1, 2007, before the 110th Congress was sworn in, Jason Chaffetz announced that he was "testing the waters" for a Congressional run against six-term incumbent, Chris Cannon, for the Republican nomination in this heavily Republican district.[27][28] Nine months later, on October 1, 2007, Chaffetz formally entered the race for the Republican nomination. That same day, David Leavitt issued a press release announcing his campaign had raised $100,000 to challenge Cannon.[29] Leavitt, brother to popular 3-term Utah Governor and Bush Administration cabinet member Mike Leavitt, more than doubled Chaffetz in fundraising for that quarter.[30] A March 2008 Deseret News/KSL TV poll by Dan Jones & Associates released two days before the party caucuses showed Jason Chaffetz with 4% support.[31]

After the nearly 1200 3rd District delegates were elected on March 25, 2008, Chaffetz sent a mailer announcing that he would run a different kind of campaign. He would have no paid staff, no campaign office, no free meals for delegates, no campaign debt and no polling. He committed to spend between $70 and $80 per delegate, telling voters, "How you run your campaign is indicative of how you're going to be in office."[32][33]

Although Cannon was one of the most conservative members of the House, Chaffetz ran to his right. He said that Cannon “has failed us for not instituting conservative principles", consistently calling for a return to the core conservative principles of fiscal discipline, limited government, accountability and a strong national defense. He campaigned on stronger measures to fix legal immigration and remove the incentives for illegal immigration, an issue he continued to press throughout the campaign.[5][34] The week before the convention, David Leavitt told the Salt Lake Tribune, "If Jason Chaffetz beats me [at the convention], Chris Cannon will be the congressman. Jason Chaffetz has no resources, no organization."[35]

At the May 10, 2008 Utah Republican State Convention Chaffetz won 59% of the 3rd District's delegates to Leavitt's 41%. He came a few hundred votes short of tallying 60% of the delegates and winning the nomination without a primary.[36]

In the primary, polls showed a close race. A Dan Jones poll released on May 22, 2008, showed Cannon leading Chaffetz 39 percent to 37 percent among likely voters.[37] A subsequent poll released June 21 showed a statistical tie, favoring Cannon 44–40 with a 5.5% margin of error.[38] On June 24, 2008, Chaffetz defeated Cannon by a vote of 60% to 40%.[39] It was considered an upset victory as Cannon was endorsed by George W. Bush,[40] the state's two U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, and nearly all of the state Republican establishment. Cannon also outspent Chaffetz by 6 to 1.[41] Cannon's primary defeat spurred worry among Republican incumbents.[42]

Chaffetz faced Democrat Bennion Spencer in the 2008 general election, along with Jim Noorlander of the Constitution Party. Chaffetz's firm position against asking for earmarks created some controversy during the general election campaign.[43] Chaffetz said, "Until there's reform, I will not ask for them. They're a cancer within the system and I want to extract them." Ultimately, Chaffetz won election with 66% of the vote. However, he had effectively clinched a seat in Congress when he won the Republican nomination. The 3rd is one of the most Republican districts in the nation; in 2008 it had a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+26.


Chaffetz defeated Democratic nominee Karen Hyer and all third-party candidates, garnering 72% of the vote.[44] The Salt Lake Tribune, often critical of Chaffetz, endorsed him in the race, writing, "U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has delivered as advertised for Utah's 3rd District."[45]


In early 2012 Chaffetz worked as a representative of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign during primary season, shadowing the campaign of rival GOP candidate Newt Gingrich to offer rebuttals to reporters following Gingrich speeches.[46] "I'm just trying to offer a little perspective," said Chaffetz at one of Gingrich's Florida stops.[47]


Chaffetz announced at the start of the congressional term, in 2009, that he would be sleeping on a cot in his office, rather than renting a Washington, D.C. apartment.[48] Chaffetz said, "I'm trying to live the example that it doesn't take big dollars in order to get where we want to go. I can save my family $1,500 a month by sleeping on a cot in my office as opposed to getting a fancy place that's maybe a little bit more comfortable."[48] His family will continue to live in Alpine. "We are now $10 trillion in debt. $10 trillion. Those are expenses that have to be paid at some point", he said. If he can tighten his belt in these tough economic times, Chaffetz said, Congress should be able to as well.[48]

Chaffetz appeared on the "Better Know A District" segment of The Colbert Report on January 6, 2009, where he was defeated by Stephen Colbert in leg wrestling.[49]

Cut, Cap and Balance Act[edit]

In June 2011, Chaffetz sponsored HR 2560, the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011. HR 2560 capped FY 2012 discretionary appropriations at $1.019 trillion, which was $31 billion below FY 2011 discretionary spending, and provided $126.5 billion for war spending. HR 2560 imposed a cap of $681 billion on "other" mandatory spending. Excluded from the $681 billion cap were Social Security, Medicare, veterans programs, and interest payments. HR 2560 gradually reduced federal government spending as a percent of gross domestic product from 24.1% in 2011[50] to 21.7% in 2013 and 19.9% in 2021. HR 2560 also allowed for an increase in the debt ceiling of $2.4 trillion, as requested by President Obama, conditioned upon approval by both Houses of Congress of a qualifying Balanced Budget Amendment which would then be sent to the states for approval. HR 2560 passed the House of Representatives but was rejected by the Senate.[51]

Social Security reform[edit]

In November 2011, Chaffetz announced a seven-point Social Security proposal.[52] The seven provisions include using a chained CPI-W for calculating annual COLAs, increasing normal retirement age, adding progressive price indexing to primary insurance amount calculations, means-testing benefits for high income beneficiaries, increasing the number of years for calculating average indexed monthly earnings, indexing special minimum benefits to wages instead of CPI, and increasing benefits by 5% for retirees when they reach age 85.[53]

President Obama[edit]

In January 2010, Chaffetz was called upon to question President Obama at a meeting of the Republican Party Conference.[54] Chaffetz applauded Obama for some of the promises made during the campaign, but asked why promises to broadcast healthcare debates on CSPAN, keep lobbyists out of senior positions, go line-by-line through the health care bill and end earmarks had not been kept. Video of the Q&A went viral and received extensive media coverage.[55][56][57][58] Upon hearing that U.S. President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize on October 9, 2009, Chaffetz said he had "lost all respect for the award", saying "it used to be one of distinction, but [now] it is hard to give it any credibility".[59]

Nuclear waste[edit]

In November 2009 Chaffetz co-sponsored a bill in the House with Rep. Jim Matheson to block the importation of foreign nuclear waste into the United States, putting him directly at odds with Rep. Rob Bishop and Utah's Senators Bennett and Hatch, who had historically supported importing foreign nuclear waste into Utah with restrictions.[60]

Homeland security[edit]

In December 2009, Chaffetz championed legislation to limit the use of full-body imaging scanners at airports unless a metal detector first indicated a need for more screening. The images have come under intense scrutiny from privacy groups for allegedly letting security administrators view images of undressed passengers.[61]

Chaffetz and TSA have had a rocky relationship since he joined Congress. In his freshman year, in what critics have described as political grandstanding, he accused Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at his hometown airport in Salt Lake City of unfairly targeting him to pass through a full-body scanning machine—a device Chaffetz believes is invasive. The Republican lawmaker said he believed he was targeted partially for his opposition to granting TSA screeners collective bargaining rights. A FOIA request by the Deseret News for video of the incident showed it to be a "tame and rather civilized exchange between the two."[62] TSA's November 2009 report following their internal investigation primarily supported the Chaffetz version of the story.[63] The union representing some of the officers said at the time that agents followed proper procedure and that an officer who had recently returned from military service in Iraq didn’t recognize Chaffetz.[64]


Chaffetz criticized the surge of 30,000 troops President Obama authorized for the war in Afghanistan, saying that the United States does not have a clear policy or exit strategy.[65][66][67]

Benghazi attack[edit]

Chaffetz has been vocal against the White House and State Department's handling of the attacks on the US Consulate compound. The Administration first stated the attacks were sparked by a spontaneous protest, then later stated the violence was a planned terrorist attack.

"There was a very conscious decision made, I believe—my personal opinion is that they wanted the appearance of 'normalization' there in Libya and building up of an infrastructure, putting up barbed wire on our facility would lead to the wrong impression. Something that this administration didn’t want to have moving forward."[68]

He criticized US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice’s initial comments calling them “somewhere between an outrageous lie and total falsehood.”[68]

Chaffetz has been criticized for politicizing the Benghazi incident, acknowledging in an interview with CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien that he had "voted to cut the funding for embassy security" and that House Republicans had consciously voted to reduce the funds allocated to the State Department for embassy security since winning the majority in 2010. "Absolutely," he said. "Look, we have to make priorities and choices in this country."[69]


Chaffetz pledged to vote against what he calls "trivial resolutions," including those dealing with sports, such as congratulating the winning team of the Super Bowl. Chaffetz feels that the House could be taking up more important legislation.[70]

Protection for greater sage grouse[edit]

Chaffetz has opposed federal protection for Utah's resident greater sage grouse, a bird whose population has shrunk from 16 million 100 years ago to about 200,000 today. In 2007, a court ruled that political tampering by Julie A. MacDonald, then-deputy assistant secretary for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, had "tainted" the bird's assessment, and a new review was ordered. In March 2010, U.S. interior secretary Ken Salazar assigned the bird "warranted but precluded" status, paving the way for its future protection.[71]

D.C. cannabis reform[edit]

In February 2015, Chaffetz threatened Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser with possible jail time if she implemented Initiative 71. The ballot initiative would legalize small amounts of cannabis in the district and was approved by about 64.87 percent of the voters in 2014.[72][73]

Planned Parenthood hearings[edit]

In a September 2015 hearing, Chaffetz questioned Planned Parenthood's president Cecile Richards on her salary,[74] and displayed a chart he claimed was taken from Planned Parenthood's annual report, but sources confirm the claim the chart was actually taken from Americans United for Life chart data that was manipulated using questionable dual-axis charting methodologies. Experts in data presentation said this was an egregious example of using a chart to mislead.[75]

Speakership election[edit]

Following John Boehner's announcement that he would resign from Congress, Chaffetz declared his candidacy to replace him as Speaker of the House.[76]

Committee assignments[edit]


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External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Chris Cannon
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Utah's 3rd congressional district

Preceded by
Darrell Issa
Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Mark Sanford
United States Representatives by seniority
Succeeded by
Mike Coffman