There’s a name you probably weren’t expecting to be hearing in January of 2015, eh? While residing close to the back pages of the morning paper, former Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell is back in the news. And amazingly, it’s not for something new. This is the same story which has been plaguing her since her ill fated run against Chris Coons. The Federal Election Commission is moving forward with a suit in federal court demanding that she repay campaign funds which they claim she expended for personal use.
Christine O’Donnell, the 2010 Tea Party candidate in the Delaware race to fill Joe Biden’s seat, allegedly used campaign dollars to pay her rent and utilities on a townhouse she both lived in and used as a headquarters.
The Federal Election Commission filed a lawsuit against O’Donnell, her campaign committee and campaign treasurer on Monday in federal district court in Delaware requesting that the money be paid back, that a fine be leveled and that any transfer of money from her former campaign committee to O’Donnell for her personal use be barred.
The complaint was originally brought to the FEC’s attention in 2010 by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The watchdog group alleged that O’Donnell spent at least $20,000 in campaign funds to pay for her personal living expenses.
Holy flashbacks, Batman. That was four years ago. But such investigations can obviously drag out for quite a while, and as Doug Mataconis points out, there were alternate remedies offered this fall. If the FEC didn’t think they had the goods on her they wouldn’t be going to court.
Assuming that the FEC can prove it’s case, and it seems unlikely that they would have brought the suit if thy couldn’t, then this seems like slam dunk case that, logically, should have been settled before it got to this point.
At this point, O’Donnell is probably wishing she actually was a witch so she could make this all disappear. I follow her on Twitter and she seems to have returned to civilian life for the most part with no interest in the national stage. But once the FEC gets their hooks into you and opens the books, they don’t let go easily. With the benefit of some time and distance there seems to be little doubt that the candidate was inexperienced, poorly staffed, and she engaged in some campaign management activities which probably didn’t seem unreasonable to her (or at least didn’t look illegal) but found out later that she was coloring outside the lines.
This is probably going to turn out to be a very expensive lesson for Christine O’Donnell, and one which will do her little good in life if her political career is over. But it will still serve as a cautionary tale for all of you out there who work inside the game and may find yourself staffing a new, less experienced candidate. While we talk all the time about the need for great campaign managers, communications directors and advisors, there are two people that every political team should absolutely have; an attorney and an accountant, both of whom have solid, extensive experience in political campaigns. Managing every dollar that comes into and goes out of a campaign is job one. That is followed only narrowly by making sure that everyone on the team is conducting themselves inside the boundaries of the campaign laws for the region where you are running, many of which will seem arcane or even nonsensical.
O’Donnell jumped from relative obscurity to a statewide campaign which caught fire in the national media. She didn’t follow those rules and now, four years later, it’s still haunting her.