By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Dana Rohrabacher—Orange County's senior, career politician—repeatedly used his congressional status and his wife's pregnancy as props to raise secret funds from numerous individuals, including two convicted felons, a California tax cheat, an Iraq War profiteer, a Middle East oil executive, a space entrepreneur and others seeking to influence federal government policies or spending, according to documents obtained by OC Weekly.
At least five months before the April 2004 birth of his triplets, Rohrabacher launched a fund-raising campaign aimed at enticing wealthy or well-connected political players in the nation's capital, throughout the country's conservative circles and in Orange County, to help to cover his personal expenses related to raising his kids.
The congressman, who often poses as cash-poor despite living comfortably on the federal payroll for the past 33 years, collected at least $33,000 in undisclosed personal contributions from 11 corporate executives, two billionaires, seven lobbyists, four corporations and the two aforementioned convicted crooks: Jack Abramoff, a disgraced Washington, D.C., lobbyist who swindled millions of dollars in an influence-peddling con game, and Patrick J. Nolan, a former California Republican politician arrested by the FBI and convicted in "Shrimpscam" for pocketing illegal contributions.
Rohrabacher, a loudmouth known even among his political allies as a notorious cheapskate often eager to find the closest bar, wasn't able to keep his fund-raising pitch a secret and had to acknowledge the existence of the account in 2004 to the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets, but he steadfastly refused to divulge the identities of those who contributed, the dates of the payments or the amounts.
Asked at the time by reporters if Abramoff was a contributor, the now-13-term, Costa Mesa congressman claimed ignorance. But he may not have been telling the truth. According to Rohrabacher's own extensive records, which are now in the Weekly's possession, Abramoff was the second-largest individual donor, giving $2,300.
We've previously revealed that Rohrabacher—who has never faced a tough re-election battle in his high-income, Orange County coastal district—funneled as much as 50 percent of collected campaign contributions during a 2011 reporting period to his personal coffers by claiming his wife, convicted in criminal court after a prior illegal campaign scheme, earned the windfall because she allegedly works as his professional campaign adviser.
Surprisingly, the congressman's records don't show baby contributions from two of his most loyal defenders—ex-California Republican Party Chairman and chiropractic-insurance company boss Michael J. Schroeder or Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer. But the secret contributor list does include:
• Robert W. Smiley Jr., chairman of the board at Benefit Capital Companies Inc., with $1,000;
• Paul Behrends, defense-industry lobbyist, with $775;
• Wilfred N. Cooper, Newport Beach real-estate developer, with $300;
• Hazem Chehabi, Laguna Beach resident, with $2,000;
• Mohammed Bader Aldafa, Qatar diplomat, with $200;
• Albanian American Foundation, with $1,000;
• Daniel S. Goldin, former NASA administrator and CEO at the Intellesis Corporation, with $240;
• International Transportation Service Inc. and John L. Miller, Long Beach port container operator, with $480;
• A. Omar Turbi, defense-industry executive and lobbyist, with $200;
• Erik Prince, creator of Iraq War profiteering Blackwater USA, with $1,500;
• David M. McIntosh, ex-congressman and current corporate lobbyist, with $150;
• William Lansdale, California businessman who deposited income in offshore accounts to avoid federal taxes and in 1986—through political favors—won a special tax-shelter exemption, with $200;
• Alfred E. Mann, Las Vegas billionaire, with $2,000;
• Robert K. Dawson, government lobbyist, with $180;
• Elon R. Musk, founder of SpaceX, with $3,080;
• James F. McConnell, government lobbyist, with $500;
• Larry T. Smith, onetime Family Research Council director, now with Family Action PAC, with $225;
• Signal Oil & Refining Co., with $1,000;
• Christopher Cox, former congressman now in private law practice, with $480;
• Adam Probolsky, Probolsky Research boss and GOP political operative known to work for gambling interests, with $250;
• Shawn and Michelle Steel, conservative activists, with $225;
• Gilbert P. Hyatt, Las Vegas investor, with $2,250.
Several contributors have benefited from Rohrabacher's assistance or voting. For example, Prince's company won tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds in a no-bid deal for his private, mercenary army; Musk's firm grabbed a $1 billion NASA contract; Abramoff used Rohrabacher's name as a character reference in a bribery scam to defraud an Indian tribe out of tens of millions of dollars; and Smiley publicizes on his website one of the congressman's floor speeches that touted his Nevada-based company and his "monumental work."
Lax U.S. House of Representative ethics rules (helpfully written by members of congress for themselves) allow federal office holders to raise money in baby shower-type pitches and even permits them to shield the financial transactions from public view, but they also caution about accepting gifts that create the appearance of conflicts of interest.
Records obtained by the Weekly show that Rohrabacher used the baby-fund donations to hire After the Stork, a Rancho Santa Margarita company that specializes in "home care for the new mother." The accredited firm charged the congressman $30 per hour for its services, which lasted for several months.
The birth of the children wasn't a onetime shot for the congressman to use his kids as props for money-raising endeavors. Additional records obtained by the Weekly show that in 2009 he organized a joint party to celebrate the births of his kids and that of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. The event was held at the Beverly Hills home of socialite Arthur M. Kassel, a Glock-toting businessman who specializes in donating to police-union causes in exchange for receiving real police badges.
At least in that case, the congressman urged restraint to contributors so the transactions wouldn't trigger public disclosure.
"The maximum value of gifts for the Rohrabacher triplets combined cannot exceed $49," stated the glossy birthday invitations that contained five photographs of the identified kids: Annika, Tristen and Christian.
Rohrabacher—one of the most senior members in the House who is viewed within his own political party as a peculiar, loose cannon, unfit to chair a major legislative committee—did not respond to requests for an interview regarding his fund-raising practices.
This year, he's asking voters in his district to return him to Washington, D.C., for his 27th and 28th years in Congress. Last year, after leaving a Costa Mesa rental with grotesquely soiled carpets, broken furnishings, cracked appliances and maggots under the stove, he sued his ex-landlord in Orange County Superior Court for having the audacity to keep a security deposit. The landlord has countersued to collect more than $20,000 in damages caused by the unhygienic Rohrabachers.