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State Ethics Group Fines Michael O'Donnell $25K For Campaign Finance Violations

Michael O'Donnell during a 2019 county commission meeting
Deborah Shaar
KMUW/File photo
Michael O'Donnell during a 2019 county commission meeting

Former Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell was fined $25,000 by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission for violating campaign finance laws.

O’Donnell admitted to nine campaign finance violations during two elections. The state panel said the fine will be cut in half if O’Donnell pays within 90 days.

"I want to rectify this," O’Donnell said during a hearing in Topeka on Wednesday. "I want to take responsibility for my actions.

"I put people on retainer for my campaign, and I see now that was wrong."

According to a consent decree, O’Donnell admitted to using campaign money for personal use, paying people on his campaign staff for work they didn’t do, filing fraudulent campaign finance reports and co-mingling campaign contributions with personal funds.

The actions took place from 2015 to 2017 during O'Donnell’s successful campaigns for state Senate and the Sedgwick County Commission.

O'Donnell, 36, faced many of the same charges in federal courtin 2018. He was charged with 26 counts of money laundering, wire fraud and bank fraud related to campaign spending.

O'Donnell was acquitted on 21 of the charges in 2019, and the jury could not reach a verdict on the other five. Those were later dismissed by the court.

Many of the same people who testified in the federal trial also were part of the complaint brought by the state ethics committee.

For instance, O'Donnell was charged with paying two campaign staffers $1,000 each in 2016 for work they didn't do. The complaint says the staffers repaid the money to O’Donnell, who then deposited the $2,000 into his personal checking account.

Controversy dogged O'Donnell during his time as a county commissioner. He joined the commission in 2016 after defeating a long-time incumbent, Democrat Tim Norton.

In addition to the federal charges, O'Donnell became embroiled in a controversy involving an attack video against Brandon Whipple during the 2019 mayoral race.

An audio recording revealed O'Donnell conspiring with Wichita City Council member James Clendenin and former state legislator Michael Capps to create a plan to blame others for producing the video.

After pressure from other commissioners and the local Republican Party to resign, O’Donnell said in late October that, if re-elected, he would leave office after his term expired this month. But he resigned abruptly two weeks later after the District Attorney’s Office announced it was prepared to initiate ouster proceedings against him.

After he resigned, O’Donnell lost his re-election bid to Sarah Lopez.

O’Donnell remains part of a civil suit filed by Whipple, who is now Wichita’s mayor, against him, Clendenin and Capps.

Copyright 2021 KMUW | NPR for Wichita

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.
Tom is the Director of News and Public Affairs. He joins KMUW after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle in a variety of reporting and editing roles.