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O'Donnell angrily denies misusing campaign funds

The 'tea party'-backed Senate candidate from Delaware calls a federal inquiry a 'thug-politic tactic.'

December 31, 2010|By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

Christine O'Donnell, who was backed by the conservative "tea party" movement in her unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat from Delaware, denied Thursday that she had misused campaign funds, and she criticized opponents for pursuing a federal investigation into her spending.

"There's been no impermissible use of campaign funds whatsoever," O'Donnell said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "You have to look at this whole thug-politic tactic for what it is."

Speaking on NBC's "Today" show, O'Donnell was more explicit, castigating mainstream Republicans and Democrats.

"This is part of the political apparatus who want to make sure that this anti-establishment movement is stopped in its tracks," O'Donnell said. "They are trying to discredit me."

The Associated Press was the first to report that the O'Donnell campaign was being investigated by the U.S. attorney's office in Delaware.

Former staff members have told investigators that O'Donnell used campaign funds to pay for personal expenses, including her home. She has acknowledged that she lived in a townhouse that was also used as her campaign headquarters.

But on NBC, she said she was paying rent to the campaign, not the other way around.

"Here is where the miscommunication comes in," O'Donnell said. "Because my home was vandalized and eggs thrown at my house, I paid the campaign. I paid the campaign money to use the townhouse as my legal residency." It was "not the campaign paying me."

O'Donnell rocked the political world this year by soundly defeating Rep. Michael N. Castle, a moderate Republican, for the Senate nomination for the seat previously held by Vice President Joe Biden.

But in the general election, O'Donnell soon became an object of ridicule on television after a video clip surfaced of her saying that she had dabbled in witchcraft. O'Donnell launched one of the more ill-fated campaign ads of the 2010 cycle. "I am not a witch," she said. "I'm nothing you've heard. I am you."

That attempt to build a bond with common people included O'Donnell's troubled personal finances. A marketing consultant and television commentator, O'Donnell often tried to explain away her money woes.

"I think the fact that I have struggled financially is what makes me so sympathetic," O'Donnell said in March to the Wilmington News Journal, which reported that she faced an Internal Revenue Service lien for unpaid taxes and had sold her home to a staff member to avoid a sheriff's sale.

Chris Coons, the Democratic candidate, handily defeated O'Donnell in her third try to win a U.S. Senate seat.

O'Donnell said she learned of the new investigation from media reports and found it strange that she, her staff or her lawyers were never told of the inquiry, which was prompted by complaints from the nonpartisan group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The group's website lists Melanie Sloan as executive director. Sloan worked as a lawyer for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was chaired by Biden in the 1990s. That tie has prompted O'Donnell to suggest that Biden is among the people seeking to destroy her.

"Given that the king of the Delaware political establishment just so happens to be the vice president of the most liberal presidential administration in U.S. history, it is no surprise that misuse and abuse of the FBI would not be off the table," she said in a statement.

Sloan on Thursday dismissed O'Donnell's criticism, saying the allegations came from former employees who worked for O'Donnell. "I don't see how anybody can say that those people are part of the liberal machine," Sloan said.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

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