The Secret Lives of Bob Dornan

Inside the Fevered Imagination of O.C.'s Most Infamous Congressman

Another issue is Dornan's manipulation of the term-limits debate. When Democrats controlled Congress, he led the charge for change, going so far as to become an honorary chairman of U.S. Term Limits, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative lobbying group. In the months leading up to the November 1994 election, Dornan argued that the very survival of democracy depended on term limits, calling for a maximum of three consecutive terms for representatives. In media interviews, campaign solicitations and House-floor speeches, he guaranteed that his ninth term would be his last. But in a classic political flip-flop, Dornan reneged just hours after the polls closed. Without any apparent sense of irony, he now says it's okay to seek his 19th and 20th years in Washington because he is the "champion of term limits."

How does such a guy keep getting elected? Money. Years of working the radical Right's rubber-chicken circuit have paid off handsomely. In the last general election, not even Oliver North or Michael Huffington, two free-spending Republican Senate hopefuls in Virginia and California respectively, spent more per vote than Dornan's $45. No one else in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives--and only two others in U.S. history (President Ronald Reagan and Senator Jesse Helms)--has plowed the lush conservative fund-raising fields like Dornan. From 1976 to 1995, neither House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) nor Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.)--both shameless money magnets--raised more than Dornan for their congressional campaigns.

Since that first campaign in 1976, Dornan has raked in a record $13 million, often raising in a couple of days more than some of his Democratic opponents collected in their entire campaigns, according to disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in Washington, D.C. Not counting the ongoing race against Sanchez, the resources of his five most recent general-election opponents cumulatively didn't come close to what he raises in a single election cycle.

Twenty years ago, when the average cost of a House campaign was less than $250,000, Dornan was already raising and spending more than $1 million per election. The funds poured in primarily from targeted, nationwide direct-mail solicitations and, to a much lesser extent, corporate political action committees (PACs). Every two years--until this election cycle--Dornan has plodded back to his district loaded with millions in contributions ($2.3 million in the last election) to face the next penniless novice put forward by disorganized local Democrats. In 1994, the Dornan for Congress committee couldn't open contribution envelopes fast enough. The average monthly take: $96,000.

As improbable as it may seem at first glance, powerful special-interest groups like having Dornan in Washington. The outspoken advocate for ever-increasing Pentagon budgets lures sizable contributions from such military contractors as General Dynamics, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Martin Marietta, Grumman, Litton, Rockwell International, Hughes Aircraft, Raytheon, Westinghouse, Northrop and Lockheed. Other powerful special interests like to give to Dornan too, including AT&T, Texaco, American Bankers Association, UPS, American Medical Association, Archer Daniel's Midland, Pacific Telesis and the Realtors PAC. A hard-line stance against abortion under any circumstances earns him high marks and steady financial support from the National Right to Life PAC.

But most of his money comes in amounts less than $200 from individual contributors. Ninety-seven percent of them live outside Dornan's district, and two-thirds of them don't even live in California, according to a 1994 Democratic Party analysis of Dornan's FEC records. By saying things no one with common sense or good taste would say, he attracts loyal nationwide support from the Right's wacky fringe. These individual backers are for the most part not wealthy conservative businessmen but include an assortment of religious fundamentalists, sexists, gun nuts, homophobes, military enthusiasts and global-conspiracy theorists--a modern-day diaspora of the John Birch Society.

"He plays to the trailer parks in Oklahoma and Nebraska or wherever else he thinks his right-wing, bogeyman conspiracy theories will sell," said Mike Kaspar, who manages "Dump Dornan," a local guerrilla marketing campaign unaffiliated with Sanchez, and who teamed up with OC Weekly contributor Nathan Callahan in 1994 to publish "Shut Up, Fag!" "I have no doubt that he understands exactly how and why his message sells to certain people. He manipulates and strokes their baseless fears for money."

A review of contributors listed on his disclosure reports shows the No. 1 source of money for Dornan is senior citizens, who--it's safe to assume--must be susceptible to political flag-waving and his overblown, anti-abortion, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-liberal, anti-communist sales pitch. According to sources on his mailing list, Dornan sends a steady stream of solicitations--sometimes several a week--to this nationwide constituency. The letters display the same style as his speeches: rambling and tinged with paranoia and a heavy dose of sanctimony.

A standard Dornan pitch says the congressman desperately needs $50, $250 or $1,000 today!, since he is all that prevents liberals from ruining America. "They hate everything that you and I stand for," he wrote in a 1994 solicitation. "You and I must move fast, because the liberals aren't wasting any time. . . . I need to get my campaign war chest together as fast as humanly possible so that I can begin countering their ridiculous charges and defending our conservative cultural values." In another six-page, hand-written, mimeographed letter, Dornan referred to the president as "Billary" and "Slick Willie" and claimed, "The Clintons have personally demanded, 'Get rid of Bob Dornan!'"

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