This MAGA Republican used campaign funds for January 6th visit and the FEC let him off the hook
On Tuesday, August 9 — the day after FBI agents executed a search warrant at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compound — far-right MAGA Republican Derrick Van Orden won a GOP primary in Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District. Now, he is competing with Democratic nominee Brad Pfaff in the general election.
Van Orden has been drawing criticism from Wisconsin Democrats, including Pfaff, not only for promoting Trump’s false claims of election fraud during a Washington, D.C. visit on January 6, 2021, but also, for paying for that trip with funds from a 2020 campaign. However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), according to Daily Beast reporter Roger Sollenberger, is willing to let that slide.
“Candidates can get away with using campaign donations to travel to an insurrection, according to a new Federal Election Commission decision — as long as they’re thrifty,” Sollenberger explains. “That’s the upshot for Derrick Van Orden, the Republican congressional candidate from Wisconsin who dipped into donor funds to bankroll a trip to D.C., where, as The Daily Beast reported last year, he appeared on Capitol grounds during the January 6 riot. On Friday, (September 2), the commissioners published their unanimous July 26 decision to dismiss allegations that Van Orden’s January 6 travel expenses constituted unlawful personal use of campaign money — though they did not technically rule it was legal, either.”
In 2020, Van Orden ran against Democratic Rep. Ron Kind in Wisconsin but lost by 3 percent (Kind decided not to seek reelection in 2022). Van Order’s critics have been arguing that none of the money from that campaign should have been used to pay for his visit to Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021.
“The commissioners didn’t even take up the merits of the case, arguing that the amount of money involved was too small to move ahead with further enforcement action,” Sollenberger reports. “The agency’s general counsel made the same recommendation in its report, writing that even if the expenses were personal in nature, the amount in question — a few hundred dollars — was so small that it ‘does not merit the expenditure of further Commission resources to pursue.’”
Sollenberger adds, “As often happens in politically charged decisions, the Democratic and Republican commissioners released competing explanations. In this case, those statements had one key difference: The Democrats condemned the expenses; the Republicans were silent.”
Sollenberger notes that according to FEC regulations, travel costs must be “directly related to the campaign” in question. When Van Orden traveled to Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021 he wasn’t campaigning; he had lost the election to Kind back in November and had yet to declare his candidacy for 2022.
According to Sollenberger, “The Van Orden campaign argued the trip was related to pre-scheduled ‘political meetings,’ and that the expenses would be justified because the January 6 rally was ‘inherently political, akin to any other (party) event or committee fundraiser.’”
The Democratic commissioners, in response, said, “There is so much that is wrong with that statement. Activities to disrupt the certification of a presidential election are in no way akin to a party event or fundraiser. The actions of those who breached the Capitol, assaulted Capitol police, and committed various forms of violence, trespass, and assault were illegal. And as the Act makes clear, a contribution may only be used for a lawful purpose.”
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