After breaking spending records, O’Donnell still has nearly $1m left
It looks like Christine O’Donnell’s money problems are over. Or perhaps they’re just beginning.
Even after breaking campaign spending records for the state of Delaware, O’Donnell has over $924,800 left over, according to a post-election fundraising report filed Thursday.
As the Republican candidate for senator from Delaware, O’Donnell broke campaign spending records in the state. Her campaign spent over $6.1 million.
“I think it’s the largest amount ever spent in Delaware,” Delaware’s commissioner of elections Elaine Manlove said.
Campaign finance records going back to the 1980s compiled by CQ Moneyline show that no candidate spent more than O’Donnell. Former Sen. Joe Biden was the closest, spending $4.9 million in the 2008 election cycle.
But even with her record spending, National Review‘s Jim Geraghty suspects that O’Donnell always intended to keep a large sum of money for after the election.
“A candidate who had persistent financial problems pulls off a surprise upset in the primary, and the conservative grassroots open their wallets wide and often in order to help ensure the campaign’s competitiveness – only to see the candidate end the campaign with nearly $1 million in unspent funds,” Geraghty noted.
“Is this how Christine O’Donnell wanted it?” he asked.
After she won the primary and became a national figure, O’Donnell collected $850,000 in the first 24 hours. She had raised $2.5 million by Sept. 25.
The candidate aired no ads for the first three weeks following her primary win. In that same time period, her opponent, Chris Coons, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) both aired two ads per week.
O’Donnell eventually would double the $3.2 million Coons spent in the general election cycle.
The tea party favorite ultimately lost to Coons, 56.6 percent to 40 percent. The next day, she blamed establishment Republicans for the loss.
“Had the leadership reached out or accepted my reaching out to them, we would have united much quicker, but we spent the first several weeks reaching out to other Republican leaders, earning their support,” she told CNN’s Kiran Chetry. “By the time we did earn, not necessarily the party leadership’s support but some prominent figure support, we had about two weeks left.”
O’Donnell’s attorney advised her to keep “several hundred thousand dollars” in reserve for use in legal challenges to her campaign.
One such complaint was filed by the state GOP during the primary. They accused her of illegally collaborating with the Tea Party Express.
They alleged that because she coordinated with the Tea Party Express, every campaign ad the group ran was a violation of federal law.
During the general election, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a criminal complaint alleging that the candidate had used $20,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses.
“Christine O’Donnell is clearly a criminal, and like any crook she should be prosecuted,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement.
The candidate later acknowledged using campaign funds to pay part of the rent on her town house.
Federal Election Commission (FEC) officials are examining campaign records going back to 2009. She has until Dec. 28 to submit either written responses or amendments to her original reports.
The FEC “pointed to incorrect figures, omitted debts and potentially excessive contributions,” The News Journal‘s Nicole Guadiano noted.
“The requests indicate the FEC is conducting a thorough examination of O’Donnell’s campaign finance records and has discovered significant problems,” Sloan said. “It is not unusual for the commission to request additional information, but the number of requests suggest the FEC has found O’Donnell’s records wanting, which is of course, no big surprise.”
The FEC could use the “unusual” number of records requested to justify an audit, according to Campaign finance lawyer Kenneth Gross. O’Donnell could face civil penalties through a settlement or federal lawsuit.
“Historically, accumulating a lot of letters regarding compliance that were indicative of possible systemic problems was a way in which you would perhaps be considered for a ‘for cause’ audit,” Gross told Guadiano.
If the remaining $924,800 isn’t spent on legal bills, O’Donnell could pay herself a salary with the money if she decides to run for office again.
“House and Senate candidates are permitted, under certain conditions, to receive a salary from their campaign committee (up to either the candidate’s earnings in the previous year or the salary of the office, whichever is lower),” according to FEC law.
O’Donnell only reported an income of $8,500 in 2009, but with a book deal, she may have made significantly more in 2010.