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Dornan’s Debts May Hamper ’96 Run for Congress : Politics: His presidential campaign is $177,892 in the red, records show, leaving little cushion for his reelection bid.

STATE NEWS SERVICE

With Rep. Robert K. Dornan’s presidential campaign debt eclipsing his modest personal assets, the Garden Grove Republican may find his financial leverage to fund a 1996 congressional race depleted.

So far, Dornan has accumulated $177,892 in debts for his presidential bid, including a loan to the campaign for $40,000 from his personal funds, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.

It appears he has drained much of his personal assets and targeted contributors for his presidential race, so there may be little or no cushion to support his 1996 bid for reelection to Congress. According to Dornan’s 1995 financial disclosure form, the congressman’s only asset is a bank account with the congressional credit union worth from $15,000 to $50,000.

But Dornan’s campaign manager, his daughter Theresa Cobban, said the debt is relatively small compared with the other Republican candidates’.

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“That’s not debt at all,” she said from the Dornan presidential campaign headquarters in Virginia. “When the phones are ringing off the hook and Democrats call and write checks for $1,000, we don’t have a problem.

“We’re never overspending,” she added. “He’s not flying on a private jet, he’s flying on ValuJet,” a budget airline that flies throughout the eastern United States.

The GOP front-runner, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, raised $5.6 million from July 1 to Sept. 30 and incurred a debt of $697,307, according to FEC records. California Gov. Pete Wilson, who dropped out of the race, had the highest campaign debt at $1.9 million, FEC records show.

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Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said Dornan’s debt could become a campaign issue since this year’s GOP mantra has been fiscal responsibility.

“They can become campaign issues, particularly if they run on a platform of fiscal conservatism,” he said. “Opponents can argue about hypocrisy or living within one’s means.”

Campaign debts can take years to pay off, which could put a damper on fund raising for future races, said Sheila Krumholz of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.

“He [Dornan] would be constantly raising money to retire the debt,” she said.

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Raising money for two campaigns is difficult too, Krumholz said. “It’s difficult to hit up the same people,” she said.

Dornan’s strategy of using direct mail to campaign could end up costing more than he raises from the effort, Krumholz added. Dornan has spent more than $200,000 on direct mail-related costs for the presidential campaign.

Included in Dornan’s campaign debt is $15,000 owed to his daughter for running the campaign. The congressman has also paid or reimbursed a number of his other children for activities related to the campaign.

Dornan’s son Mark was paid $2,000 last spring for security and consulting, and another daughter, Robin Griffin, was reimbursed $210 for paying Exeter, N.H., police to block off the street during Dornan’s presidential announcement tour, according to FEC records.

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Dornan’s campaign fund also paid the Waldorf Astoria in New York $3,638.51 for “travel and meeting expense for candidate and staff,” records show.

Dornan and his five sons and daughters and nine grandchildren traveled to New York and New Hampshire for the announcement tour and stayed at the Waldorf.

Rothenberg said the appearance of nepotism could also flare up in a contentious political race.

“Nepotism and living off the public trust is potentially dangerous, especially when you talk about someone who is critical of the government,” he said. “Combined with a number of charges, I could see how an opponent could use it.”

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A number of people have announced their intentions to challenge Dornan for his 46th Congressional District seat in 1996.

“I don’t think running for President helps him running for Congress,” Rothenberg said. “There is sort of a quixotic element to the Dornan campaign; it’s the quirkiness of Bob Dornan. He wanted a bigger stage.”

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Cobban dismissed concerns that Dornan’s presidential aspirations could become a liability. “We’re running a grass-roots effort the old-fashioned way,” she said. And besides, “there is no congressional campaign open yet.”

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Dornan has said he would seek another term, but Cobban said he has not made any official announcements because of the presidential campaign.

Throughout the race, Dornan has said he would try to make it through the February primaries, as long as funding permits. But with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) bowing out of the race, Cobban thinks Dornan’s run could last longer.

“A miracle could happen here,” she said. “He could be the front-runner. It’s a matter of time.”


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