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Updated: 3 p.m., Dec. 10
Christine O’Donnell wants to help other conservatives take on establishment Republicans, so she’s starting a new political action committee to help inexperienced candidates with a “passion” for conservative values avoid making the mistakes that tripped up her campaign this year.
“It’s to help the underdog candidate find their way,” the Delaware Republican told Roll Call in an interview Wednesday. Speaking from a Northern Virginia hotel the morning after a dinner with tea party activists, O’Donnell praised independent-minded candidates and outlined her tentative vision for transitioning her losing Senate campaign into a political action committee.
The PAC is still in the works as her team figures out its structure, she said. The tea party darling, who also is writing a book to be published next summer, said she hopes to use the PAC to influence policy in an attempt “to raise awareness and engage the populace on issues like the death tax and repealing Obamacare.”
“The broader mission is to be a resource for everyday Americans who feel the stir in their heart to run for office, whether it’s on the state level or federal level, but who don’t have resources to find their way through a very complicated process,” O’Donnell said. “That’s in a nutshell the goal. The mechanics ... we still have to figure out.”
Some members of the O’Donnell team were part of the first “tea party” race, a 2009 special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional district that pitted an establishment Republican against conservative candidate Doug Hoffman.
O’Donnell speculated that first-time candidates unfamiliar with campaign rules and regulations might not get much help from their local Republican Party, especially if they are seeking to challenge an establishment candidate in a primary.
“[If] the local party won’t return their call because they don’t want these troublemakers in the trenches running for office, I want my PAC to return their call,” she said.
The PAC might be able to help candidates navigate Federal Election Commission requirements, some of which have snagged O’Donnell. Her campaign operations remain a matter of interest, even as she moves on to the next phase of her political career.
Her FEC filings made public this week showed her dramatic transformation from little-known candidate to tea party superstar nearly overnight. She impressed with her online fundraising, and her campaign raised $7.3 million through Election Day, even ending with a cash balance of $925,000 as of Nov. 22.
(Case in point: Her Senate campaign refunded $2,400 to writer Dean Koontz and another $2,400 to his wife, Gerda, on Nov. 22. It turns out that the California couple gave the candidate too much money.)
Asked about Koontz, O’Donnell said she finds it amusing that reporters take the time to scour her FEC reports and quipped that if they had spent the time reading the text of the health care overhaul, the measure might not have passed.
After gaining national attention, O’Donnell also increased her hiring. Most notably, Jennie O’Donnell landed on her younger sister’s payroll in early September, days before the candidate’s unlikely GOP primary victory over Rep. Mike Castle and amid the flood of campaign donations from conservatives across the nation.
Jennie O’Donnell, who is expected to work for the political action committee, received weekly payments of $1,000 that were initially described as “salary” and later as “political strategy consulting” as they continued through the general election, according to the FEC filings.
Between Sept. 8 and Nov. 19, Christine O’Donnell’s campaign paid her sister $26,000, consisting of 11 separate $1,000 payments and one for $15,000 on Nov. 4.
Jennie O’Donnell’s specific role with the PAC and her qualifications aren’t completely clear. She described herself as a “spiritual psychologist, actor and meditation teacher” in a private Facebook profile published on various blogs in the fall. Campaign manager Matt Moran, who also is likely to have a role with the new PAC, said that Jennie O’Donnell had worked on her sister’s previous campaigns and that she has executive experience.
“We aren’t too big on titles,” Moran said, noting the campaign had just five staffers plus O’Donnell before the primary. If he had to assign a descriptor for Jennie O’Donnell, it would be “executive operations director,” he added.
Jennie O’Donnell is traveling with her sister and attended the tea party dinner and meetings in Virginia, and she described her role as ongoing as her sister transitions from the campaign to the PAC. The payments also appear to be ongoing, with the FEC filings showing $1,000 payments on Nov. 5, 12 and 19.
Christine O’Donnell doesn’t find it unusual to have several paid staffers in the transition period between campaign and PAC. “A 1,200-page FEC report, that doesn’t just file itself,” she said.
O’Donnell’s schedule is booked through January with meetings, tea party events, official Republican events and even a guest-host stint on “Fox and Friends” during Christmas week.
But does she have a political bid in her future?
O’Donnell, wearing glasses with purple frames, considered the question for a minute. “I don’t know. It depends. Right now there’s so much wrong with the system. ... I want to continue the effort to reform the process.”