What the Feds Should Ask O'Donnell
Christine O'Donnell is reportedly under investigation for misusing campaign funds. Benjamin Sarlin on the questions she has yet to address.
Christine O'Donnell was one of the country’s most covered politicians in 2010, yet her refusal to answer questions raised by critics and former staffers about her finances made her among the most enigmatic as well. Now the feds are reportedly looking into whether she used her campaign funds for her own gain. Here are some of the burning questions for O'Donnell that have built up over the last year.
Did You Use Campaign Funds for Personal Gain?
Phone bills, meals, bowling outings, and rent on her house, which conveniently doubled as a campaign headquarters—these are some of the items that O'Donnell charged to her campaign that critics allege were improper. O'Donnell has said she didn’t misuse any campaign cash and that she cleared the expenses with her lawyer. But Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and asked the Delaware U.S. attorney for an investigation. O'Donnell has received particular scrutiny because of an array of financial troubles, including a foreclosure on her home, which she subsequently sold to a campaign staffer.
Tax filings show she earned a paltry $5,800 from March 2009 to June 2010, well below the federal poverty line. But in an interview with the Weekly Standard, she said she made more in that time period, though offered no additional details. She also had trouble paying off her college tuition, leading to a reported lawsuit by the school, Fairleigh Dicksinson University.
Why Is Your Mother on the Campaign's Payroll?
As first reported by The Daily Beast, Christine O'Donnell's FEC filings show $3,500 in payments to her mother for "financial consulting services" and "bookkeeping and reporting" during her 2010 Senate run. The campaign confirmed to CNN that they had paid the money to Carole O'Donnell, who lives in New Jersey, but offered little details on the nature of her services, or her qualifications for the job. Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors campaign money, told The Daily Beast at the time that candidates owe voters a thorough explanation whenever relatives are on the payroll.
Who Is David Hust?
Christine O'Donnell's campaign manager in 2010, David Hust, was somewhat of a mystery. Hust had no publicly listed political experience and was primarily known as a Christian rocker. Hust, however, lived in O'Donnell's house and enjoyed the benefits of campaign-expensed rent and utility bills thanks to his position with the campaign. The Daily Beast's Rebecca Dana traveled to O'Donnell's home to talk to Hust about his role and their living arrangement, but he refused to answer any questions and said he was "not authorized to speak to the press."
O’Donnell’s first instinct when confronted with accusations of shady finances has been to allege a high-up conspiracy.
Are Your Staffers in on the Alleged Conspiracy, Too?
O'Donnell's first instinct when confronted with accusations of shady finances has been to allege a high-up conspiracy. After news broke that her finances were under federal scrutiny, she suggested in a statement to CNN that Vice President Joe Biden might be behind the reported investigation. "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. It wasn't the first time she'd accused Biden, who she ran against in 2008, of possibly directing a conspiracy against her—earlier this year she told NPR that an IRS audit against her might be the vice president's doing as well. However, many of the accusations of wrongdoing come from her own former staffers, who have gone to the press with stories of rampant misuse of campaign funds by O'Donnell while the perennial Senate candidate allegedly refused to pay their salaries. O'Donnell has danced around the accusations, broadly dismissing her accusers as "disgruntled 2008 former volunteers."
What Will You Do With Your Campaign Cash Now?
Questions about O'Donnell's campaign funds are especially relevant today because she still has plenty of cash left over from her most recent race—about $925,000. O'Donnell recently announced she would form a political action committee, which she could finance with the leftover campaign cash. "I want to take on projects to help raise awareness about these political issues," she told reporters this month. Will O'Donnell renounce the kind of spending that attracted so much criticism during her last campaign now that she has another opportunity to throw around donors' cash?
Benjamin Sarlin is the Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast and edits the site's politics blog, Beltway Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.