WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican consultant who worked with Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and other top GOP candidates has pleaded guilty to lying to House ethics investigators about how much campaign work he did while being paid from a Georgia lawmaker's congressional account.
Brett O'Donnell entered the guilty plea in federal court in Georgia last week in an ethics case involving former Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.
O'Donnell, a well-known Republican debate coach, helped Romney during the 2012 presidential primary debates after serving as a strategist for Bachmann's failed presidential campaign.
O'Donnell worked for Broun from June 2012 to March 2014 and helped him with his 2012 re-election and a failed 2014 Senate bid.
The guilty plea marks the first time anyone has been charged with a federal crime for lying to the House Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent office that reviews allegations against lawmakers and staff and recommends further action to the House Ethics Committee.
According to court papers filed last week, O'Donnell received about $43,000 from Broun's congressional office, but regularly assisted the congressman with political campaign activities, including debate preparation.
House rules and federal law prohibit members of Congress in most cases from mixing campaign funds and taxpayer-funded office accounts. Political activities and official duties are to be paid for separately.
During an interview with congressional investigators in June 2014, O'Donnell "knowingly and intentionally made several false statements" to the ethics office "in an effort to minimize and conceal the true nature of scope of his role" with Broun's campaigns, the court papers say.
The ethics office said last year it had found "substantial reason to believe" that Broun violated House rules and federal law by using official House funds to hire O'Donnell for debate preparations and other campaign work.
Broun did not seek re-election after losing a bid for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.