Republican congressional candidate Derrick Van Orden says a report claiming he entered a restricted area of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection is inaccurate and is meant to distract from Wisconsin’s Republican Party convention.
The Daily Beast published a report Sunday claiming a photo posted to Facebook on Jan. 6 shows Van Orden, a Republican who ran against longtime U.S. Rep Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, inside a restricted area of the Capitol.
The report also claimed Van Orden wrote off around $4,000 in transportation and hotel costs in Washington, D.C., around the time of the insurrection.
During a press event Monday in Onalaska, Van Orden said the report was inaccurate and timed to be published while he was hosting the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s annual convention.
“We anticipated this to happen. They rehashed stuff from months ago just to make a news splash,” Van Orden said.
In an op-ed published by the La Crosse Tribune in January, Van Orden said he was in Washington “for meetings and to stand for the integrity of our electoral system as a citizen and at the behest of my neighbors here in Western Wisconsin.”
In that article and on social media, Van Orden has said he didn’t enter the Capitol grounds and left the scene of the insurrection when unlawful activity started.
Van Orden’s April finance report from the Federal Election Commission show several travel-related charges during the first week in January, including two charges for a hotel in Washington totaling around $1,125.
Van Orden’s campaign didn’t return a request for comment regarding the purpose of these disbursements.
Jay Heck, executive director of government watchdog group Common Cause Wisconsin, said candidates routinely use campaign funds for travel to meet with party officials or political consultants. But if Van Orden traveled to Washington specifically to participate in the Jan. 6 rally-turned-riot, Heck said the congressional candidate could have “some real explaining to do.”
“It could be that maybe some of his campaign contributors are perfectly happy with the use of that money,” Heck said. “But generally speaking, the Federal Elections Commission says it has to be for a ‘political purpose’ and that would usually be for your own election.”
Heck said the fact that Van Orden had campaign funds to use on travel after the election is surprising given his highly-competitive and high-spending race against Kind in 2020.