WILMINGTON, Del. — Former U.S. Senate candidate and tea party favorite Christine O'Donnell is seeking more than $50,000 from supporters, arguing in an unusual weekend fundraising plea that she needs help fighting a legal battle that dates back to her unsuccessful 2010 Senate campaign.
O'Donnell wrote that the Federal Election Commission has offered a settlement over accusations that she used campaign funds for personal expenses, including rent and electric bills in her Greenville townhome.
"Accepting the settlement offer is tempting, except that I would have to claim I did something that I did not do," O'Donnell said in the appeal.
In her fundraising email on Saturday, O'Donnell said she needs money to continue fighting the complaint, which was filed by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
"This will cost us no less than $50,000 in legal fees, let alone the administrative fees for things like filing Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests," O'Donnell wrote.
"For most politicians, that is a small amount. But for everyday Americans like you and me, it's a lot of money. Especially with the important 2014 mid-term elections right around the corner, it is crucial we stop the political bullying and corruption. Will you please contribute $35, $50 or even $100 to help us fight the bullying? Can you give $1,000.00 or more?"
The email request was sent to the list maintained by ChristinePAC, O'Donnell's political action committee that is surviving by renting its contact lists to political consultants and direct marketing firms. That list generated nearly $25,000 for the committee during the first half of the year ending June 30.
The committee did not list an individual contribution for the first six months of this year.
The CREW complaint from 2010 accused O'Donnell of using campaign money in 2009 and 2010 to pay for personal expenses, which is illegal. Between January and August 2010, O'Donnell used more than $20,000 in campaign funds to make "rent and utility payments that were the obligation of the candidate."
O'Donnell told The News Journal in 2010 that she used campaign money to pay rent on her Greenville townhome, which she said doubled as her campaign headquarters.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW and a former aide to then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she knows no details of a potential settlement. Sloan also petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate O'Donnell, but it later declined to prosecute.
Matt Moran, a spokesman for O'Donnell and former campaign aide, attacked CREW, suggesting they were doing the bidding of Democratic politicians and liberal donors.
"Christine has been exonerated from all the baseless charges sought by slanderous former Biden staffer Melanie Sloan and her ultra-liberal CREW in the past, and we will continue that fight for justice," Moran said in an email statement.
Sloan on Tuesday called O'Donnell a "footnote in history," adding that "the FEC is looking at the facts. Who filed the complaint is irrelevant."
An FEC spokeswoman could not confirm if a settlement had been offered.
Also in her weekend fundraising email, O'Donnell conflated two unrelated issues: the complaint filed with federal elections officials and the national controversy over the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative nonprofit groups by delaying applications for tax-exempt status.
"Now, there is evidence that suggests possible coordination between the IRS and the Federal Election Commission," O'Donnell wrote. "Two government agencies that are supposed to serve the public and remain politically neutral have been used as political weapons!"
As evidence of that claim, Moran cited media reports that quoted emails and Don McGahn, a former Republican FEC commissioner, both suggesting that the FEC had improper contact with IRS officials about the alleged targeting of conservative groups.
No reports name O'Donnell as a target of the IRS or the FEC.
In 2010, as O'Donnell launched a campaign for U.S. Senate, the IRS placed a $11,744 lien on a Wilmington home once owned by her. O'Donnell's 2005 tax return had been the subject of an ongoing three-year audit.
O'Donnell, who ultimately paid $1,100 to the IRS, argues the lien was placed erroneously, but said to The News Journal in 2010 that "I think the fact that I have struggled financially is what makes me so sympathetic."
The IRS later released the lien, noting it was filed in error.
There was a separate question involving O'Donnell's tax records that surfaced this summer.
O'Donnell believes she was targeted for political purposes by officials inside the Delaware Department of Finance, where a tax auditor accessed her federal tax records on March 20, 2010, the same day The News Journal wrote a story about O'Donnell's financial troubles.
Patrick Carter, director of the Delaware Division of Revenue, said it is routine for state auditors to access taxpayer records based on tips, complaints and media reports.
The federal Inspector General for Tax Administration previously questioned state officials but has not acknowledged any wrongdoing on the part of the state. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, is still looking into the matter.