A Republican candidate for Congress reportedly used campaign funds to travel from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C., to attend the January 6 rally by then-President Donald Trump, subsequently taking part in the violent breach of the United States Capitol building on the same day.
According to reporting from The Daily Beast, Derrick Van Orden (R-Wisconsin), a former Navy SEAL and small-time actor who lost last fall in a close race to Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisconsin), used his leftover campaign funds from that contest to send himself and staffers to the nation’s capital for Trump’s rally.
In tweets prior to January 6, Van Orden wrote he had traveled there “to stand for the integrity of our electoral system” — in spite of zero evidence of fraud in the presidential race. After the violent breach of the Capitol, Van Orden wrote an op-ed where he repeated those claims, and denied having taken part in the Trump loyalist-takeover of the building, saying he did not enter the Capitol grounds.
However, social media postings have since demonstrated that is untrue. Although there’s no evidence to suggest he entered the building itself, images of Van Orden on that day show he did indeed cross police barricades that had been set up and was on the grounds of the Capitol during the breach.
Van Orden, who has announced he is running again in 2022, is not the only congressional candidate to have been involved in the Capitol breach. However, he is perhaps the most noteworthy, as he’s been endorsed by several key Republican leaders, including House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California).
Van Orden’s use of his remaining campaign funds to pay for his travels may have violated Federal Elections Commission (FEC) laws regarding how such revenues can be utilized. According to the FEC website, if an expense is made that would exist irrespective of an election’s outcome, then it’s likely an improper use of campaign funds.
“Using campaign funds for personal use is prohibited,” the FEC states.
Even if Van Orden claims his presence at the Capitol was part of his future campaign, his use of previous funds may still be illegal: The Republican candidate did not declare his pending run in 2022 until April of this year.
“Campaign accounts are not personal slush funds. They must be used for campaign-related activities,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for campaign finance watchdog Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility, to The Daily Beast. “Attempting to overthrow an election you just lost is not a proper campaign activity. If he did use his campaign to pay for travel for him and his staff to attend the rally-turned-insurrection, it would raise serious questions about his compliance with campaign finance laws.”
Van Orden lost to Kind in Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District last fall by a slim margin, with the Democrat winning 51.3 percent and the Republican challenger taking 48.7 percent of the vote. The district was carried by Trump in 2020 by around 5 percentage points. Kind has represented the district since 1997.
Van Orden’s candidacy was rife with problems, most notably when readers discovered he sexually harassed female officers while he was serving in the military, which he bragged about in a 2015 memoir titled Book of Man: A Navy Seal’s Guide to the Lost Art of Manhood. In the book, Van Orden described how he exposed a male lieutenant’s genitals, which had come into contact with poison oak, to female officers.
“‘Have you ever seen anything like this?’ I asked,” Van Orden wrote, noting he had pulled the patient’s curtain back without telling the officers what they were about to see. “They gasped in horror as they saw the LT in all of his glory.”
Van Orden later issued a statement claiming the action had been part of a medical training for the female officers.