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Brian Bilbray

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 50th district
Assumed office 
June 6, 2006
Preceded by Duke Cunningham

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 49th district
In office
January 4, 1995 – January 3, 2001
Preceded by Lynn Schenk
Succeeded by Susan Davis

Born January 28, 1951 (1951-01-28) (age 58)
Coronado, California
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Karen Bilbray
Residence Imperial Beach, California (1995-2006)
Carlsbad, California (2006-present)
Alma mater Southwestern College
Occupation tax consultant
Religion Roman Catholic

Brian Phillip Bilbray (born January 28, 1951) is a U.S. Republican politician who is a member of the United States House of Representatives, first serving from 1995 to 2001, representing California's 49th congressional district. After that, he was a registered Washington lobbyist. On June 6, 2006, Bilbray won a special election as representative for California's 50th congressional district to serve out the remaining seven months of the term of fellow Republican former Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who resigned after pleading guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes. Bilbray won re-election in the November 2006 general election and has been representing the 50th district ever since.


Early life

Bilbray was born in Coronado, California, and grew up in Imperial Beach, California. He graduated from Mar Vista High School and attended Southwestern College, a community college in Chula Vista, California. He worked as a tax consultant before entering politics.

He and his wife, Karen Walker Bilbray, have five children. He is a cousin of former Nevada Democratic Representative James Bilbray.


Bilbray is an avid surfer, who compares surfing to politics.[1][2][3]

Mayor and supervisor

Bilbray became interested in politics when an extensive program of eminent domain was proposed for Imperial Beach. He ran successfully for the city council as a populist, serving during 1976–1978, and was mayor during 1978–1985.

As mayor, Bilbray attempted to build a yacht marina in the Tijuana Estuary and to build a 1.5 mile breakwater off the beach of Imperial Beach.[4] Both projects were stopped by the opposition of local surfers and environmentalists. The Tijuana River Estuary is now a National Estuarine Research Reserve and California State Park. The breakwater project was halted with the help of the then fledgling Surfrider Foundation.

From 1985 to 1995, Bilbray was a member of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

Member of Congress, 1995–2001

In 1994, Bilbray won the Republican nomination for the 49th district, now the 53rd district, which included most of San Diego, and defeated freshman Democrat Lynn Schenk in the Republican landslide of that year. The 53rd was one of several marginal districts to go Republican in that cycle.

Bilbray was reelected twice. In 2000, he was defeated by State Assemblywoman Susan Davis.

Lobbyist Activities

In 2001, Bilbray registered as a federal lobbyist. His clients included the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians and Federation for American Immigration Reform, the San Diego Regional Airport Authority, Conquer Cancer and Alzheimer's Now, Los Angeles County, San Diego Gas and Electric Company.

From May 2002 until July 2005, Bilbray was a consultant for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a conservative anti-immigration lobbying group founded by John Tanton. He is currently on the federation's board of advisers. In 2006, Bilbray received nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from members of the federation's board of directors: Nancy Anthony, Sharon Barnes, General Douglas E. Caton, Sarah Epstein, Stephen Swensrud and Alan Weeden.[5]

2006 special congressional election

Bilbray ran in the 2006 special election to fill the vacancy in California's 50th congressional district caused by the resignation in December 2005 of fellow Republican Duke Cunningham, who pleaded guilty to felony charges of conspiracy and tax evasion, and subsequently went to jail. In March 2005, Bilbray moved to Carlsbad, California, to take care of his mother, who owns a home there.[6].

The race to assume Cunningham's seat was highly contested, especially on the Republican side, with 14 Republicans (compared with only 2 Democrats) officially running for the position. Leading up to the initial all-candidate election that would determine the parties' candidates in a runoff election, Bilbray was in a virtual tie with Republican businessman Eric Roach [2], slightly ahead of former State Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian. Four days prior to the election, businessman Alan Uke, one of the major Republican candidates, ran an attack ad accusing Roach of outsourcing thousands of jobs at the expense of American workers. [3] In the initial all-party special election on April 11, 2006, Bilbray was the Republican candidate with the most votes, receiving 15.26% of the total vote to Roach's 14.50%. He then faced the top vote getters of all the other parties in a runoff election on June 6, 2006: Democrat Francine Busby, Libertarian Paul King, and William Griffith, an independent.

During the campaign, Arizona Senator John McCain canceled a planned fundraiser for Bilbray at the last minute, after Bilbray called McCain's immigration bill "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.[7] McCain later contributed money to Bilbray's campaign and voiced a radio commercial for the National Republican Congressional Committee in support of Bilbray's race against Busby[8].

Bilbray won the runoff with 49% of the vote, and was sworn in on June 13, 2006 as a member of the Congress. The Republican Party considered this a bellwether race because this district had "the perfect storm in favor of the Democrats" according to Ken Mehlman, the RNC Chairman at the time of the special election. The Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute raised several concerns about the fairness and accuracy of the vote count.[9] An election contest lawsuit sought a hand recount. However, Bilbray was sworn in before the vote count was official. [10] The court dismissed the suit on the basis that, once the House of Representatives had sworn in Bilbray, the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the challenge.[11]

109th Congress

During the 109th Congress Congressman Brian Bilbray served on the House Armed Services, Veterans Affairs and Government Reform Committees. Since his swearing in June Congressman Bilbray co-authored legislation that led to the transfer of the Mount Soledad Veteran's Memorial from the City of San Diego to the federal government. He also authored legislation that would have reformed the federal budget process.

2006 general election

Bilbray and Busby each won their party's primary, and faced each other again in the November general election.

With the advantage of incumbency and the Republican edge in registrations in the district, Bilbray was initially a clear favorite to win in November. Both the Cook Political Report and CQPolitics first rated the race as Republican Favored. But Busby gained in October, with a late-October poll by SurveyUSA showed Bilbray ahead by just 3 points, for a number of reasons: the general political climate seen as disadvantageous to the GOP, Busby's outraising Bilbray, and Bilbray's low profile campaign. On October 23, CQPolitics changed their rating to Leans Republican.[12]

In the 2006 midterm election, Bilbray defeated Busby by a margin of 54.2%-43.5%. Bilbray ran as an opponent of illegal immigration.

2008 general election

Running unopposed in the June primary, Bilbray beat back a strong challenge from Democrat Nick Leibham in the November 2008 general election. With help from the DCCC[13] and $1 million in donations[14], Leibham hit Bilbray hard with a string of TV attack ads. Democrats argued they had a shot at taking the district, what with the hostile environment plaguing Republicans in general, and shifting demographics locally. But Bilbray still won, 50% to 46%, with 4% of the vote going to Libertarian candidate Wayne Dunlap.




Since his loss to Congresswoman Susan Davis in 2001 Congressman Bilbray has maintained residences and properties in Imperial Beach, California, Alexandria, Virginia, and Carlsbad, California. In response to requests to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, by the local Democratic Party and neighbors of the congressman, a San Diego County grand jury was convened to investigate claims against Bilbray's declared residency for the special and general elections in 2006.[15]. The investigation was dropped in May 2007.


During his first stint in Congress, Bilbray was one of the more moderate members of the Republican class of 1994. He positioned himself as moderate on some social issues while conservative on immigration and fiscal matters.[16][17] He is a signer of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge[18].

During his second run for Congress in the 50th district, Bilbray won over many of the district's most conservative voters with his hard line stance on illegal immigration. Since returning to Congress, Bilbray's voting record has been considerably more conservative than it was during his first stint. He is a member of both the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership and the conservative Republican Study Committee, two groups with conflicting positions on policy. For example, the RMSP supports stem cell research and opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment, while the RSC opposes stem cell research and supports the FMA. He is also a member of Republicans for Choice.

Bilbray voted in agreement with President Bush 93% of the time, and as a result was given a 93% Bush support score by CQ Politics in 2006.[19]

Committee assignments


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Terminal With Extreme Prejudice", Grist Magazine, 2004-10-15 and "Fights Break Out Over River Damming" by Lori Shein, reprinted in Language Arts High School Curriculum for the Tijuana Estuary (California State Parks)
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Where does Brian Bilbray Really Live?"2006-05-17
  7. ^ "McCain Pulls out of Bilbray Fundraiser", San Diego Union-Tribune, 2006-05-31
  8. ^ "McCain Cancels Appearance at Bilbray Event"2006-06-04
  9. ^ Moore, Greg (2006-07-14). "DNC Voting Rights Institute on CA-50 Special Election". Democratic National Committee. Retrieved 2007-04-03.  
  10. ^ Congressional Election Nullified – Nobody Noticed, Scoop (news website), 25 August 2006
  11. ^ LaVelle, Philip J. (August 30, 2006), "Judge throws out suit seeking to void election of Rep. Bilbray", San Diego Union-Tribune,  
  12. ^ Rachel Kapochunas (2006-10-23). "Busby Rallying in Calif. 50 Months After Special Election Loss".  
  13. ^ Union-Tribune: Democrats say they'll make a run at Bilbray
  14. ^ Union-Tribune: Hunter succeeds father; Bilbray leads
  15. ^ William Finn Bennett (2006-10-26). "Neighbor: Bilbray being investigated by grand jury". North County Times.  
  16. ^ Brian Bilbray on the Issues
  17. ^ > News > Politics - Bilbray edges out Busby
  18. ^ Current Taxpayer Protection Pledge Signers
  19. ^ [1]

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Lynn Schenk
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 49th congressional district

Succeeded by
Susan Davis
Preceded by
Duke Cunningham
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 50th congressional district

June 13, 2006 – present


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