CBS Dishonestly Touts 'Non-Partisan Watchdog' Group's Quest for a 'Criminal Investigation' of Christine O'Donnell

“There are calls for a criminal investigation of another rising GOP star,” Katie Couric teased at the top of the CBS Evening News, after citing Sarah Palin's speaking appearance in Iowa, as she elevated a publicity gimmick from a left-wing organization staffed by veterans of Democratic congressional offices. Though O'Donnell “took the spotlight today at a conservative summit in Washington,” Couric warned: “There may be trouble ahead for her. A watchdog group intends to call Monday for a criminal investigation of what it says is her chronic abuse of campaign funds.”

Reporter Nancy Cordes painted O'Donnell as a hypocrite, charging that “even as she preached a return to fiscal conservatism, O'Donnell's own unorthodox spending habits were starting to come under heavy scrutiny,” asserting “the unemployed O'Donnell used campaign funds to pay for meals, gas, bowling trips, and personal rent, even long after the campaign had ended.”

CBS then gave a platform to veteran Democratic activist Melanie Sloan, who is now advancing her liberal agenda as Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). She alleged O'Donnell “just stole” campaign donations.

Cordes legitimized CREW by misleadingly describing the obviously liberal outfit as “the non-partisan watchdog group” which “is urging the U.S. attorney in Delaware to open a criminal investigation.” Sloan got a second soundbite to declare: “It's not sloppiness, it's out-and-out theft.”

(On Wednesday night, without attribution for the ideological label, Cordes cited “O'Donnell's ultra-conservative social views.”)  

Just how much of a “non-partisan watchdog” is CREW? “CREW's Crooked Candidates 2010” list, one of whom is O'Donnell, now features nine Republicans and just three Democrats, which suggests they are cover for the group's real agenda.

Looking at its own “CREW crew” page of brief staff bios, I saw no one with any past work for a conservative cause or Republican politician, but a bunch with records of working for liberal and Democratic officials, starting with Sloan:

Ms. Sloan served as Minority Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, working on criminal justice issues for then-Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI). Ms. Sloan also served as Counsel for the Crime Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by then-Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY). There, she drafted portions of the 1994 Crime Bill, including the Violence Against Women Act. In 1993, Ms. Sloan served as Nominations Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, under then-Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE).

Other staffers toiled previously for Democratic Senators Tom Harkin, Jeff Merkley, Daniel Inouye, Barbara Boxer and the late Paul Wellstone and Fritz Hollings. Another served in the office of Maryland Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen. Plus, one “performed strategic campaign research with the Service Employees International Union.”

The “contact” name on CREW's page proclaiming “Tell the U.S. Attorney: Investigate Christine O'Donnell!” is Garrett Russo. From the bio for Russo, CREW's Communications Director: “Prior to joining CREW, Mr. Russo ran the National Press Desk for former Vice President Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection.”

That page links to a petition page that features a video clip from Thursday's Anderson Cooper 360: “CNN is already looking into the matter. Click here, or watch the YouTube clip below, to see their report.” (larger jpg image of that Web page showcasing CNN's story.)

The story on the Friday, September 17 CBS Evening News, transcript provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:

KATIE COURIC: Now to the Tea Party's newest star, Christine O'Donnell, who scored an upset to take the GOP Senate nomination in Delaware this week. She took the spotlight today at a conservative summit in Washington, but there may be trouble ahead for her. A watchdog group intends to call Monday for a criminal investigation of what it says is her chronic abuse of campaign funds. Here's congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes.

NANCY CORDES: Christine O'Donnell, initially shunned by the Republican establishment, was embraced by it today, granted a plum speaking role at the annual Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C., alongside the likes of Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL, DELAWARE REPUBLICAN SENATE NOMINEE: The small elite don't get us. They call us wacky. They call us wing nuts. We call us, "We, the people."

CORDES: Delaware's new Republican Senate nominee was at home in this crowd of social conservatives. But even as she preached a return to fiscal conservatism, O'Donnell's own unorthodox spending habits were starting to come under heavy scrutiny. Staffers on her previous campaign for Senate and O'Donnell's own financial filings reveal that the unemployed O'Donnell used campaign funds to pay for meals, gas, bowling trips, and personal rent, even long after the campaign had ended.

MELANIE SLOAN, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: Well, I've never seen a candidate who just stole all their campaign money and used it for personal use. What it seems like here is Christine O'Donnell had no other way to support herself so she thought, okay, I'll run for U.S. Senate.

CORDES: The non-partisan watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is urging the U.S. attorney in Delaware to open a criminal investigation.

SLOAN: It's not sloppiness, it's out-and-out theft.

CORDES: But today O'Donnell waved off her critics.

O'DONNELL: Will they attack us? Yes. Will they smear our backgrounds and distort our records? Undoubtedly.

CORDES: Republican Senate campaign leaders scheduled their first face-to-face meeting with O'Donnell today, but she canceled, saying she was just too tired after her whirlwind week.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center