How Bob Dornan Turned Political Defeat into a Windfall for his Family

How to feed your children on political contributions

If he were a decent human being, Dornan would have declined the House of Representatives' most recent raid on the U.S. Treasury by using a mere two and a half months of funds from his lucrative Virginia-based direct-mail operation.

Decency and Dornan, however, don't mix.

In a July 28 letter to his contributors, Dornan wrote that "My campaign, Dornan for Congress, needs your urgent, generous support within the next five days. . . . I must raise serious funds now or, quite frankly, Sanchez's bank account will overwhelm and drown out my message of truth. I badly need your [financial] help right now. I can't say it any clearer than that. Please use the certified-mail reply envelope so that your generous support gets top-priority handling by the post office. God bless you and your loved ones, and may God bless and protect our free and just U.S. of A."

Five days later, Dornan mailed another nationwide solicitation. In the fund-raising appeal, he wildly accused Sanchez ("a fraud, a criminal" and "damaged goods") of committing adultery; then he blasted her for "new lows in gutter campaign attacks." He followed that up by seeking contributions. "I need maximum-support donations right now from good folks like you," he wrote. "I humbly ask you to consider sending money as soon as you can."

In a third undated letter sent at about the same time as the other two solicitations, Dornan blasted homosexuals (a theme in every letter), claimed he is the victim of a "vast conspiracy," and then wrote: "I expect Sanchez's hateful, venomous and untrue mailings to start hitting mailboxes in the final weeks leading up to Election Day. My friend, I do not like having to bother you [by] talking about raising funds, but in this case, it is absolutely necessary. . . . Rush your most generous donation."

He closed the letter with an emotional quote from 2 Corinthians. Nowhere did Dornan tell his financial supporters that four of his five children were living off their political contributions.

Politics has been lucrative for Dornan. He was a failed Los Angeles actor who could only afford to rent when he first went to Congress in 1977. Twenty-one years later, the raspy-voiced politician keeps a lower-middle-class house in Garden Grove to comfort local voters, but he quietly lives among millionaires on a posh 5-acre Virginia estate called "Donegal Hill."

Dornan may be keenly aware that several former members of Congress lost close races due to questions surrounding illegal, unethical or simply embarrassing uses of campaign funds. In one case, a candidate used campaign contributions to pay his mortgage and home grocery bills; in another, a congressman used the funds to pay his wife's regular hairdresser bills.

During his 18 years in Congress, Dornan personally ran up large--arguably wasteful--government bills. House records show he was never shy about taking trips around the world--sometimes to exotic locations--at the public's expense. His late-night solo tirades on the House floor may have entertained or confused C-SPAN viewers across the country, but they cost taxpayers thousands of dollars per hour by keeping congressional administrators at their posts after-hours.

In December 1996--after losing to Sanchez but before she was sworn-in--Dornan used his fading power to demand a military-jet ride. The Pentagon ordered two El Toro-based F-18 military jets to give the lame-duck congressman (who avoided Korean War combat by enrolling in Los Angeles acting classes) a personal, hourlong joy ride--complete with simulated bombing attacks--over the California desert. Cost to taxpayers: $8,000.

Dornan's free spending isn't limited to public funds. The man who once entertained visions of one day occupying the White House also doesn't mind dipping into campaign funds for extravagant spending. During his laughable 1996 quest to win the Republican presidential nomination, Dornan checked into New York's Waldorf-Astoria for the night at a cost of $3,638.

At the time of the hotel stay, the Orange County Republican was trying to qualify for federal matching funds, a program that would have effectively paid a large portion of Dornan's presidential-campaign bills. He was never able to garner enough nationwide support to qualify for the program.

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