A watchdog group has filed official federal complaints against Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell, upset winner of Tuesday's GOP Senate primary in Delaware, and has labeled her a "criminal" for allegedly using campaign contributions for rent and other personal expenses.
"Christine O'Donnell is clearly a criminal, and like any crook she should be prosecuted," said Melanie Sloan, CREW Executive Director. In complaints filed with the Federal Election Commission and the US Attorney's Office in Delaware, CREW alleges that O'Donnell used $20,000 in campaign funds to pay for living expenses in 2009 and 2010.
"By misusing campaign funds," said Sloan in a statement, "Ms. O'Donnell committed the crime of conversion; by lying about her expenditures on forms she filed with the FEC, she committed false statements; and by failing to include the campaign funds she misappropriated as income, she committed tax evasion.
"Ms. O'Donnell has spent years embezzling money from her campaign to cover her personal expenses. Republicans and Democrats don't agree on much these days, but both sides should agree on one point: thieves belong in jail not the United States Senate."
The CREW complaint is based, in part, on the affidavit of former campaign aide David Keegan, who said that in 2009 O'Donnell was out of money and paid her landlord two months rent from campaign funds. O'Donnell called the expenditures "expense reimbursements" on FEC forms.
According to Keegan, O'Donnell used campaign cash for meals and gas, and even a bowling outing.
"If you need money to pay the rent and eat, you get a job; you don't start a Senate campaign so unsuspecting donors can support you," said Sloan.
O'Donnell ran for senate in 2006 and 2008 as well. Just before voters went to the polls last Tuesday, Delaware residents received a recorded message from O'Donnell's 2008 campaign manager, Kristin Murray, paid for by the state's Republican Party, alleging that O'Donnell "was living on campaign donations -- using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt. She wasn't concerned about conservative causes. O'Donnell just wanted to make a buck."
O'Donnell raised eyebrows with one of her first acts as a senate candidate this time around, when she officially disclosed her finances. In a Senate financial disclosure report from July, O'Donnell reported just $5,800 in earned income between March 2009 and July 2010. She said she worked for two companies, one a marketing firm and the other a conservative political action committee.
According to Federal Election Commission data, O'Donnell contributed $3,026 of her own money, or more than half her reported "earned income," to her campaign.
In interviews, O'Donnell has said she earned more than that $5,800 but was not required to disclose it.
"The only thing they can use against me is that I'm not a multimillionaire," she told the Weekly Standard before the election.
That answer fell short for ethics watchdog Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics.
"Every candidate should, at the minimum, follow the law," said Levinthal. "If the public has questions beyond that, questions about a candidate's private interest that could have ties to her public work, it helps that they go beyond the minimum required d by law. She needs to provide additional details."
O'Donnell raised nearly $1 million on-line within days of winning last Tuesday's GOP Senate primary over party favorite Mike Castle. "We're at 99% of our $1,000,000 goal," O'Donnell tweeted Thursday afternoon. "Help push us over the top." The campaign said in an email that it had raised $850,000 by Wednesday.
Before Wednesday, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings, O'Donnell's campaign had just $20,374 in the bank.
A spokeswoman for Christine O'Donnell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.