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Watchdog group: Delaware candidate's spending 'flat-out illegal'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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O'Donnell campaign scrutiny
  • Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wants authorities to investigate
  • The organization claims O'Donnell used campaign money for personal expenses
  • A spokesperson for O'Donnell has not responded to requests for comment
  • The 41-year-old upset winner of Delaware's GOP primary is aligned with the Tea Party

(CNN) -- A watchdog group says it plans to ask authorities in Delaware to investigate Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's finances.

At issue are more than $20,000 of spending in 2009 and 2010 that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington claims was illegal.

"It turns out Miss O'Donnell has treated her campaign funds like they are her very own personal piggy bank. She's used that money to pay for things like her rent, for gas, meals and even a bowling outing. And that's just flat-out illegal," said Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director.

In an interview on CNN's "AC360," Sloan said her organization would be sending letters to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Delaware and the Federal Elections Commission on Monday asking them to investigate.

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"For example, in 2009, Miss O'Donnell wasn't a candidate for anything, yet she had numerous campaign expenses, things like travel and gas, and yet she had no actual campaign," Sloan said.

O'Donnell's spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Speaking Friday afternoon at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, O'Donnell discussed the increased scrutiny she has faced as she has moved from a virtual unknown to a Sarah Palin-style celebrity in a matter of days.

"Will they attack us? Yes. Will they smear our background and distort our record? Undoubtedly. Will they lie about us, harass our families, name call and try to intimidate us? They will. There's nothing safe about it. But is it worth it?....Are those unalienable rights worth a little alienation from the beltway popular crowd. Yes! I say yes, yes, a thousand times yes," she said.

Sloan said Friday that her organization's complaint to the Federal Elections Commission will allege that O'Donnell abused campaign funds for personal use and made false statements on forms she filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

But Sloan said her organization's scrutiny had nothing to do with partisan politics. She noted that her organization had also recently called for Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, to step down after allegations of ethics violations.

"We're about right and wrong and not about black or white, Republican or Democrat," she said. "And it is flat-out wrong for a candidate for the U.S. Senate to be stealing her campaign funds and be using them for personal use."

Politically, O'Donnell is firmly aligned with Tea Party movement, which funneled more than $150,000 to her campaign shortly before Tuesday's primary. Largely opposed to abortion rights and gun control, she has been endorsed by two conservative populists -- former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

The 41-year-old upset winner of Delaware's GOP Senate primary may be a blank slate to most Americans, but she is no stranger to political bosses in what had been -- until Tuesday -- one of the country's last safe havens for moderate Republicans.

O'Donnell, single with no children, has run for the U.S. Senate three times in five years. She finished a distant third in the GOP primary fight in 2006 before running uncontested for the right to challenge then-Sen. Joe Biden in 2008.

Her claim that Biden had turned his back on Delaware when he joined Barack Obama's ticket fell on largely deaf ears; she lost by roughly 30 percentage points.