WASHINGTON — The Congressional district served by Rep. Robert K. Dornan, centered in Garden Grove, is a collection of largely working class neighborhoods inhabited by people of modest means.
But in Dornan's last campaign for Congress, in which he was virtually unopposed, the conservative Republican raised $1.53 million--more than any other member of the House of Representatives but one. The single exception was Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.).
The lion's share of Dornan's money--59%--came from outside his district, according to the Congressman. And nearly all of his contributions, a total of $1.26 million, came from small contributors across the country, who gave less than $200 apiece in reply to Dornan's mass mailings. The pugnacious conservative received virtually no backing from political action committees.
In marked contrast, Rep. Ron Packard, another local Republican who faced little opposition, raised only $142,080. Packard, whose district includes southern Orange and northern San Diego counties, received less than $43,000 from individual contributors. More than two-thirds of his money came from PACs, the organized industry and labor groups that generally promote specific legislative agendas.
The dramatic counterpoint between Dornan and Packard reflects the profoundly different approaches that members of the Orange County Congressional delegation take in raising political money.
It also highlights the central issues in an often bitter debate that has raged in Washington in recent years over the propriety of differing styles of fund raising. Those issues include the relative merits of raising money in large or small chunks, of relying on individual contributors or political action committees, or of local supporters or those from other states and regions.
Using computer analysis and data provided by the Federal Election Commission, The Times examined the fund-raising techniques of the county's five Congressional representatives during the 1989-1990 campaign. Among the findings:
* Dornan (R-Garden Grove) received 82% of his money from small contributors and only $35,234--about 2%--from political action committees. Contributions of $200 or more accounted for about 15% of his money. Dornan said 59% of his campaign funds come from outside California.
* Packard (R-Oceanside) received 70% of his campaign funds from PACs. He got only $26,409 in small contributions, less than 19% of his total.
* Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), who raised $586,253 in the last election campaign, received about 52% of his money from small donors, 22% from political action committees, and the rest from large contributors.
* Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), whose district includes the most generous Republican neighborhood in California, relied almost exclusively on large donors and political action committees to raise $679,846. Donations of $200 or more accounted for 69% of Cox's total, while PACs contributed about 26%. Only $29,258 came from small donors.
* Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Long Beach), who represents northwestern Orange County, raised $412,630, mainly from large donors and political action committees. More than 62% of Rohrabacher's money came from big contributors, 29% from PACs, and slightly more than 8% from small donors.
Campaign finance reform groups based in Washington in recent years have harshly criticized members of Congress for relying too heavily on political action committees, especially those based in the capital, to finance their campaigns.
"What that says to me is that a member of Congress can raise $50,000" at a PAC fund-raiser, said David Eppler, a staff attorney with Congress Watch, a consumer advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader. "That means it's not necessary to return to your district at all to raise funds."
"It gets to the question of 'who is the member representing, the fat cats here in Washington, or the folks back home?' "
Others have been equally critical of congressmen who depend on large contributions from a relatively small number of wealthy supporters to fill campaign war chests. Still others, including some prominent Republicans, have suggested abolishing political action committees, or requiring members of Congress to raise a fixed percentage of their funds from within their districts.
For example, both Congress Watch and Common Cause, a self-described citizens' lobby, have called for full public financing of congressional campaigns.
"Our view is that you have to provide some sort of substitute for interested money," Eppler said.
But not everyone agrees.
"Theoretically, people in Congress don't just represent their own constituents, they represent the entire country," said Andrew J. Cowin, a research associate at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
"The question is whether a candidate should be able to get his or her point across to the people they represent," Cowin said. "The more money they have, the easier it is to communicate with the voters."