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FEC v. O'Donnell, et al.

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FEC v. O'Donnell, et al.
Case Summary

On September 21, 2016, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware (the "Court") granted the Commission’s motion for summary judgment with regard to liability, concluding that Christine O’Donnell and her campaign committee impermissibly converted campaign funds to her personal use.

On April 19, 2017, the court ordered O’Donnell to disgorge $5,701.85, ordered the defendants jointly to pay a penalty of $25,000, and entered a permanent injunction prohibiting defendants from engaging in further personal use violations.

Background
In January 2010, Friends of Christine O’Donnell (the "Committee") rented a three-bedroom townhouse in Greenville, Delaware, to use as headquarters during O’Donnell’s 2010 campaign for Senate. The Committee continued to use the townhouse after the November election.

Ms. O’Donnell lived on the upper floor, above the campaign offices from early 2010 through March 2011, during which the Committee paid rent and utilities for the townhouse. According to its FEC reports, the Committee paid rent and utilities totaling in excess of $20,000 during that time, and received reimbursements of $770 from Ms. O’Donnell in April, June, August and September of 2010 and again in March of 2011.

Decision
The Commission alleged that Ms. O'Donnell, Friends of Christine O'Donnell and Matthew Moran, in his official capacity as the campaign committee's treasurer (the defendants),violated sections of the Federal Election Campaign Act ("the Act") and FEC regulations that prohibit personal use of campaign funds. The Act and regulations define "personal use" as the use of campaign funds "to fulfill any … expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign[.]" 52 U.S.C. § 30114(b)(2). Mortgage, rent and utility payments for any part of a candidate’s personal residence are specifically prohibited. 52 U.S.C. § 30114(b)(2); 11 CFR 113.1(g)(1)(i)(E).

The defendants countered that the Commission’s interpretation of the regulation implementing the statute was incorrect, and if not, that the statute is unconstitutional. The defendants contended that the ban on paying "rent" applied only to property owned by the candidate. The Court disagreed, noting that the statutory text makes no distinction between property owned by the candidate and property owned by another. The Court further held that the defendants’ constitutional challenge failed because the prohibition on converting campaign funds to personal use does not regulate or affect speech.

The Court granted the FEC’s motion for summary judgment as to liability and its motion for dismissal of the defendants’ counterclaims. The Court noted that it could not determine an appropriate remedy based on the present record. Instead, the Court directed the parties to provide their views on how the case should proceed.

Following the Court’s decision on summary judgment, the FEC and defendants engaged in negotiations in an effort to reach a settlement. Failing to reach a settlement agreement, both parties submitted briefs to the Court addressing appropriate remedies. The Court ordered O’Donnell to disgorge $5,701.85, ordered the defendants jointly to pay a penalty of $25,000, and entered a permanent injunction prohibiting defendants from engaging in further personal use violations.

Source: FEC Record -- May 2017; September 2016; January 2015.


Court Decisions and Related Documents

District Court (DE)

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