DOVER, Del. (AP) — Former U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell said Friday that a Federal Election Commission lawsuit accusing her of improper campaign expenditures is a “witch hunt” and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
O’Donnell, who famously declared during the 2010 Senate race that she was not a witch, made the comment in a teleconference with the federal judge hearing the case.
O’Donnell also said she is having trouble hiring a local attorney, claiming that at least three lawyers she has talked to have received phone calls warning of “political backlash” if they represent her. She declined to identify them or provide further details, noting that an Associated Press reporter was listening to the teleconference.
O’Donnell’s former local attorney, Richard Abbott, withdrew from the case last month, saying he hasn’t been paid for his services.
FEC records show O’Donnell has given her campaign committee $15,000 in two unsecured, zero-interest loans this year for legal services. The committee, which had cash on hand of $571.96 as of Sept. 30, owes $14,118.92 on the loans, which are due Dec. 31.
Judge Leonard Stark ordered Friday’s status conference to try to keep the case from falling further behind schedule. The defendants have failed to meet a Nov. 10 deadline for responding to the FEC’s discovery request for documents. O’Donnell also has yet to comply with federal court rules requiring that she have a Delaware-based attorney before outside counsel can become involved.
The alternative, Stark noted, would be for O’Donnell to represent herself, an idea she rejected.
“I’m not a lawyer. I’m not familiar with federal election law,” said O’Donnell, adding that she parted ways with another attorney, Cleta Mitchell, over a proposed settlement with the FEC. O’Donnell said she was willing to settle if the FEC changed language that “made me appear guilty,” but that the FEC declined to do so.
The lawsuit claims O’Donnell used at least $20,000 in campaign contributions to pay bills at a town house that also served as her 2010 Senate campaign headquarters. The defendants in the case are O’Donnell; her campaign committee, Friends of Christine O’Donnell; and current committee treasurer Christopher Marston, who replaced former treasurer Matt Moran as a defendant after the lawsuit was filed.
O’Donnell, a Republican, claims she did nothing wrong. She argues that campaigns are allowed to lease headquarters space and are not prohibited from subleasing space to a candidate for a residence.
Given O’Donnell’s difficulties in hiring a local lawyer, Stark said he would be willing to consider taking the extraordinary step of waiving the requirement for local counsel so the case could proceed without further delay. Stark, who has scheduled a May 3 hearing on motions that could decide the case, ordered attorneys to provide him a status report by Wednesday, including a definitive date for the defendants to respond to the FEC’s discovery requests.
Meanwhile, Steve Hoersting, a Texas attorney working with O’Donnell, indicated that he plans to file papers in federal district court in Washington, D.C., questioning the constitutionality of the election laws in question. Hoersting asserted that such an action, which likely would be opposed by the FEC, would require a three-judge panel to hear the case, and that it would be subject to automatic review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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