Michael O’Donnell receives $25,000 fine for campaign finance violations

Published: Jan. 27, 2021 at 5:53 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Before Michael O’Donnell was a former Sedgwick County Commissioner, he was a former Kansas Senator. He was acquitted of federal charges in 2019 related to campaign finance violations, but O’Donnell answered for those same acts Wednesday at a hearing in front of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

Ultimately O’Donnell admitted to the nine violations of campaign finance law brought against him and received a fine of $25,000, leaving open the possibility of further prosecution in the future.

As he left the federal courthouse in Wichita in 2019, former State Senator Michael O’Donnell had been acquitted of all charges that had not been dropped by prosecutors that he’d mishandled campaign funds amounting to wire fraud. But it was those same acts that took place in 2016 and 2017 that brought him in front of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

“Between the proposed facts and the proposed conclusions of law we believe there is sufficient basis to determine there were nine violations of the campaign finance act,” O’Donnell’s attorney told commissioners.

O’Donnell admitted to using campaign funds to pay friends for campaign work they did not do and then knowingly falsifying what those payments were for. Because of a previous campaign finance violation in 2012, O’Donnell faced a fine of ten thousand dollars for each of the nine violations.

His attorney said O’Donnell’s mishandling of $9,900 in campaign funds was sloppy but didn’t warrant more than $9,900 in fines.

“He was buying friendships. He was engaged in willy-nilly disbursements of campaign funds without expectation these people would provide services in return,” his attorney said.

Addressing the commission, O’Donnell said those days were over. Claiming legal issues have proven to be a financial hardship, when asked what fine he could pay, O’Donnell said he could afford to pay nothing.

“To be honest with you, I can’t afford anything but when you assess a fine, I’m going to talk to (Executive Director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission) Mr. Skoglund and set up some type of payment plan.”

After deliberation, commissioners voted to impose a $25,000 fine, with the stipulation if O’Donnell pays the fine within 90 days, he only has to pay half. Executive Director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, Mark Skoglund said the fine sent a message, not just to O’Donnell, but all candidates in the state.

“I think that’s it’s important that the commission has clearly shown other candidates that in similar circumstances they should be deterred from this type of conduct in the future,” Skoglund said.

Skoglund said notice of the fine will be sent to the Kansas Attorney General and the Sedgwick County Prosecuting Attorney who will decide if further prosecution is warranted but added that further prosecution is rare.

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