Delaware Republican senatorial candidate O'Donnell smiles after casting ballot in Wilmington
Delaware Republican senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell smiles after casting her ballot at the Charter School of Wilmington in Wilmington, Delaware, Nov. 2, 2010. The Federal Election Commission is suing O'Donnell for alleged misuse of campaign funds. REUTERS

WASHINGTON -- Christine O’Donnell, the failed 2010 Delaware Senate candidate and tea party darling, is being sued by the Federal Election Commission for alleged misuse of more than $20,000 in campaign donations to pay for her residence. O’Donnell shot to national attention that year, becoming one of the first faces of the tea party who would prove unable to win a general election.

“The use of campaign funds for rent or utility payments for any part of a federal candidate’s personal residence constitutes unlawful personal use,” the FEC said in the suit filed this week.

O’Donnell, a Republican, gained national attention when an old video of her appearing on Bill Maher’s programmed was released showing her claiming to have dabbled in witchcraft as a youth. In response, she released a campaign ad that began with her declaring, “I am not a witch.”

She was able to defeat incumbent Rep. Mike Castle in the primary that year, shocking the nation and providing the first signs of the impending tea party wave that swept the nation. But after a number of snags and campaign misfires, she was soundly defeated by Sen. Chris Coons in the general election.

O'Donnell, in a statement posted on her Facebook page, insisted she has done nothing wrong and characterized the suit as a David versus Goliath confrontation.

"Over the past year, evidence has emerged that the federal government has no problem abusing its power for political purposes," O'Donnell wrote. "It doesn't matter if you're liberal, conservative, Republican or Democrat -- abuse of government power affects us all and it's time to fight back. That is what I am doing."

After losing the 2010 race, O'Donnell launched a PAC and wrote a book, which did not sell very well. The book tour included an unusual appearance on Piers Morgan's program, during which she walked off the set. She now writes a column for The Washington Times.

O’Donnell was making her third bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010. She had lost her Wilmington townhouse prior to that due to a foreclosure by her mortgage company. Before the house was sold at a sheriff’s sale, it was purchased by a boyfriend and she remained in the home. She was facing a slew of financial problems, including unpaid tuition from her alma mater and problems with the IRS.

According to the FEC complaint, O’Donnell’s campaign rented the townhouse in question in January 2010. The lower floors of the house were used as a campaign headquarters and she lived in the upstairs bedroom. When she launched her 2010 bid for the Senate, O’Donnell was without full-time employment, making her bid for Senate her primary focus.

Her campaign paid the rent on the townhouse until March 2011. According to the FEC complaint, the total cost to the campaign for rent and utilities was at least $20,362. O’Donnell, at the time it became public knowledge she was living in her campaign headquarters, insisted she was paying for her portion of the rent, thus making it acceptable under FEC regulations. She reimbursed her campaign for $770 on four occasions, for a total of $3,080, according to the FEC.

It’s taken years for the FEC to respond to the first complaint they received about her living in her campaign headquarters. In June 2012, the FEC found “reason to believe” O’Donnell had violated campaign finance laws in a bipartisan 6-0 vote. Two years later, the committee updated the investigation, concluding “probable cause” existed.

In November, the FEC sent a letter to O’Donnell offering to settle the complaint through informal means, that would include her reimbursing her campaign for the total in question. Unable to reach a settlement, the commission voted 6-0 last week to file a lawsuit.

The FEC is asking a judge in Delaware to order O’Donnell to repay the $20,000 to her campaign and order her not to use campaign funds for personal use.

As for whether she could make another run at the U.S. Senate, O’Donnell is listed in the lawsuit as residing in New Jersey.