Government ethics watchdog reviewing Michael O'Donnell campaign workers' testimony

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Michael O'Donnell Michael O'Donnell

A federal jury acquitted him of using campaign donations for personal gain.  Now Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O'Donnell tells KAKE News he is asking the state to double check his campaign finance practices.

"Michael O'Donnell's political career has been significantly helped by the fact that a jury found him not guilty on several charges," said political analyst Dr. Neal Allen from Wichita State University.  "If he would have the governmental ethics commission in Kansas find that he did not violate rules, that would be helpful for him."

Dr. Allen says turning to the state's ethics watchdog is a common move for politicians in legal trouble.  Court documents show Brett Barry of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission (KGEC) purchased transcripts this week of the trial testimony from four of O'Donnell's campaign workers subpoenaed to testify against him.

“I’m obviously very relieved. It feels good to be vindicated,” O'Donnell said in March when a federal jury acquitted him on 21 wire fraud charges, alleging that he'd used about $10,500 in campaign donations for personal expenses.  

That same jury, though, was hung on five other charges involving a pair of $1,000 checks he wrote to campaign workers who immediately cashed the checks and returned the money to him.  O'Donnell says the money was for unpaid campaign bonuses, the return was to cover their part of a ski trip.

The U.S. Attorney can still re-file against O'Donnell on those five other charges.

"When there is public scrutiny of a candidate for campaign finance or ethical abuses, it is somewhat common for them to ask for an official inquiry because it gives them a place and a venue where they can claim that the larger worry about them is not correct," Dr. Allen said about the benefits of asking the KGEC to look over the testimony from that trial.

While the commission would neither confirm nor deny an ongoing investigation, O'Donnell told KAKE News it was a self-referral by him and his team.  He declined further comment at this time.

"There's a lot of reasons for candidates both to start processes and not talk about them," Dr. Allen said.  "And, often, their lawyers are telling them to do that."

When KAKE News spoke with the ethics commission, the director told us there's no timeline for campaign finance or ethics investigations.  It could be weeks or months before this review is complete.

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