- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2010

A government-watchdog group has fired the latest salvo against Christine O'Donnell, the Republicans’ newly minted U.S. Senate nominee in Delaware, calling her a “crook” and accusing her of embezzling campaign funds and evading taxes.

In one of the strongest condemnations yet against the “tea party”-backed Ms. O'Donnell, the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Monday filed complaints with the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware and the Federal Election Commission accusing her of using campaign funds to pay for personal expenses and then lying about her expenditures on forms she filed with the FEC.

CREW has asked the U.S. attorney’s office to start an immediate criminal inquiry and asked the FEC to conduct a full audit of all of Ms. O'Donnell’s campaign expenses.

Christine O'Donnell is clearly a criminal, and like any crook, she should be prosecuted,” Melanie Sloan, CREW executive director, said in a written statement. “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 O’Donnell campaign didn’t respond to several telephone and e-mail requests for comment regarding CREW’s accusations, but her campaign manager, Matt Moran, told CNN that he was “very confident that [the CREW accusations] will be dismissed as frivolous.”

“And for the charges that need to be articulated fully, we have some lawyers that will be looking at that and addressing those concerns,” he said.

Ms. O'Donnell, once regarded as a long-shot candidate, shocked party-establishment favorite Rep. Michael N. Castle to win last week’s GOP primary despite operating on a shoestring budget. Since then, she has been hammered by Democrats and even members of her own party for some of her politically and religiously conservative views. Karl Rove, who was an adviser to President George W. Bush, last week rebuked her for saying “nutty” things and characterized her as unelectable.

Kim Reeves, a spokeswoman for Delaware U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss, said the office has received the complaint and “like all complaints, we will review them in their entirety.”

CREW has targeted congressional lawmakers from both major political parties in recent years. It filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics in July against Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, accusing the New York Democrat of violating federal law and House rules by accepting $40,000 from a New York businessman and failing to include it on his personal financial-disclosure reports.

The group last year also filed a complaint with the FEC against the campaign committee of Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, regarding concerns about a $25,300 “donation” to the U.S. Treasury Department made last year by her campaign.

Ms. O’Donnell, 41, is one of 14 congressional candidates on CREW’s “Crooked Candidates 2010” list, which has nine Republicans, three Democrats and two independents. Federal law prohibits federal candidates from using campaign funds for personal use.

CREW says she also committed tax evasion by misusing $20,000 in campaign funds in 2009 and 2010 and by failing to include the cash as personal income.

The group’s complaint is based in part on an affidavit of former campaign aide David Keegan. Mr. Keegan said that twice in 2009, when Ms. O'Donnell was out of money, she paid her landlord rent out of her campaign funds. He also said she routinely used campaign funds for meals, gas and even a bowling outing.

On FEC forms, Ms. O'Donnell called the expenditures for her rent “expense reimbursements” and said the money spent on gas, meals and bowling were “travel” expenses, CREW says.

In the days after her come-from-behind primary win, Ms. O'Donnell received a $42,000 campaign contribution from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the fundraising arm of Senate Republicans, which had worked to elect Mr. Castle. Her campaign also recently received a $250,000 commitment from the Tea Party Express, a California political action committee.

But Ms. O'Donnell has taken heat in recent days after an interview more than a decade old resurfaced in which she said she “dabbled” in witchcraft while in high school.

“I dabbled into witchcraft. I never joined a coven,” she said during a 1999 taping of comedian Bill Maher's “Politically Incorrect” show.

She stepped back from those comments Sunday, joking with a crowd that “there’s been no witchcraft since.”

“If there was, Karl Rove would be a supporter now.”

Critics have been busy unearthing other unflattering age-old TV clips of the candidate, including one from 1996 in which she equated masturbation with adultery. Ms. O'Donnell last week dismissed those comments by saying that the Constitution - not her personal beliefs - will guide her votes on legislation.

Ms. O'Donnell trailed Democratic nominee Chris Coons, the New Castle County executive, by 11 percentage points in a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted Wednesday, the day after her primary victory.