Reimbursement Denial Hurts Dornan Campaign


In a blow to Robert K. Dornan's effort to return to Congress, the House Republican leadership has decided not to reimburse him or Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) for the cost of his challenge to her 1996 victory.

The decision hurts Dornan's campaign, which used $464,000 to fight the outcome and now is almost out of money. He was counting on getting the funds back for his rematch against Sanchez in this fall's election.

Sanchez, whose campaign has more than $1 million in the bank, could not use a similar reimbursement in her reelection bid because the funds she spent to defend herself came from a non-campaign account.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said the GOP would seek other ways of funding Dornan's effort to regain the congressional seat in central Orange County.

The decision to withhold repayment comes as Dornan has been sharply criticizing Gingrich. Observers said the speaker might be trying to bring Dornan to heel for recent attacks that blamed Gingrich for deserting social conservatives and losing seats in the 1996 elections.

Dornan last week also had threatened to boycott a GOP unity rally featuring Gingrich scheduled for Monday evening at the Orange County Fairgrounds. But Dornan indicated Wednesday that he might attend.

In his election challenge, Dornan charged, among other things, that votes were cast by people who were not citizens when they registered. The House found that 748 improper votes were cast, not enough to overturn Sanchez's winning 984-vote margin.

Dornan called the failure to repay the money he spent on the challenge "a bad precedent for the country."

"It is telling the nation that someone can prove voter fraud and still get stuck with the bills because they set the bar of proof so high and wouldn't call a special [election]," he said. "I am as shocked at this as at anything I have ever seen in my life in politics."

Sanchez, who submitted legal bills totaling $421,000, also was critical of the decision. Spokesman Lee Godown said the House had "vindicated" her win but then decided not to make her whole.

"In a court of law, she would be entitled to be reimbursed for her legal expenses," he said. "Mr. Dornan was allowed to bring his frivolous charges--and now the House leadership has decided that she should pay for the privilege of being assaulted by him."

In dismissing Dornan's challenge, the House gave Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, the authority to decide whether to reimburse costs. The House leadership, including Thomas, decided against any reimbursement. Thomas said repaying costs could encourage frivolous election challenges.

Times staff writer Jodi Wilgoren in Washington contributed to this report.

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