WASHINGTON Christine O'Donnell, the defeated Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Delaware and a Tea Party favorite, on Thursday denied charges of misuse of campaign funds and said they were politically motivated.
In morning interviews on Fox and CNN TV, O'Donnell said reports on Wednesday that a federal criminal probe of her campaign financing was under way had come as news to her.
"We found out from media calls. We're like 'what'?," she told interviewers.
A U.S. official has said prosecutors were reviewing a complaint about her campaign's practices which was filed by a public interest group.
O'Donnell said: "As we've looked into it, this is simply the same CREW complaint that is obviously politically motivated that's been circulating for the past couple of months."
The nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed complaints in September with the Federal Election Commission and the Delaware U.S. Attorney's Office accusing O'Donnell of using campaign funds for personal living expenses.
In that regard O'Donnell said that while she did use as a legal residence a townhouse that was her campaign headquarters, she paid rent money to her campaign to reimburse it for that personal use.
"I am very confident that there (has) been no impermissible use of campaign funds," she said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Delaware and an FBI spokesman have declined to comment on a probe of O'Donnell.
O'Donnell was one of many candidates backed by the conservative Tea Party movement to challenge mainstream Republicans during the mid-term elections, gaining a high profile when she upset long-time congressman Mike Castle to win the GOP senate nomination.
She was mocked during the campaign for a past interest in witchcraft, forcing her to make advertisements that included her saying: "I'm not a witch."
Accusations of misconduct came primarily from two disgruntled campaign workers involved briefly in an earlier campaign, O'Donnell said on Thursday, adding that "there's a vendetta to stop this movement in its tracks."
"We're starting a PAC that's encouraging more citizen activists to step up and run for office," she said, adding the aim of the political action committee will be to put incumbents on notice that "if you are not accountable to your constituents you might not remain in office."
(Reporting by Jerry Norton and Jeremy Pelofsky; Additional reporting by Jon Hurdle in Philadelphia; Editing by Peter Bohan)