WILMINGTON, Delaware (CNN) – Christine O'Donnell's Senate campaign is pushing back hard on allegations that she misused election funds by putting them to private use. Leading the counter-offensive is Cleta Mitchell, an attorney and an expert in campaign finance law, who was just retained by the O'Donnell campaign to deal with the allegations.
In an interview with CNN, Mitchell responded to a complaint against O'Donnell filed this week by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The group, known as CREW, accuses O'Donnell of spending roughly $20,000 from her failed 2008 campaign for the Senate for personal expenses.
"That is not true," Mitchell told CNN. She accused CREW and its executive director, Melanie Sloan, of libeling O'Donnell and said the campaign is considering a lawsuit against the group.
"She has committed libel per se, slander per se by calling my client names... I've looked at lots of campaign FEC (Federal Election Commission) reports. And the things she (Sloan) is saying are simply not true," Mitchell said in the interview.
Sloan has called O'Donnell "a criminal" and "a crook," in accusing the candidate of tax evasion and a host of other financial improprieties.
Central to the allegations are claims that O'Donnell used 2008 campaign money to pay rent, to buy food and gasoline and even for a bowling outing. CREW says those expenditures occurred in 2009 and early 2010 when, the group says, O'Donnell had no active campaign.
"She did have a campaign because she had gone from running in 2008 to running in 2010," Mitchell told CNN Tuesday. "She was already running... she moved from one campaign to another and frankly the campaign headquarters was in her home - that's not unusual."
For her part, Sloan denies allegations her group is politically biased and says it is acting on information provided to it by a former O'Donnell campaign official.
"We've added up what we think is over $20,000 in expenses that were improper, that were money she used - campaign funds put to personal use. But it's really hard to say, because there's been no audit of her campaign. The fact is, once you start seeing this trend … the odds are there are many more expenses that we don't know about," Sloan told CNN in an interview.
Campaign officials are upset that the CREW complaint is getting so much press.
"You see, what the problem with Melanie Sloan and FEC complaints is you get to make big headlines, with lots of allegations and two or three years later, when they're dismissed as being baseless, there's no press. And so Melanie Sloan waited until Christine O'Donnell won the Republican nomination and less than a week later files a complaint that she's obviously had for a long time, just ready to go," Mitchell said.