Politicians' Meal Tab In Thousands

Clagett, Boschert Top Council's Feeding Frenzy

January 06, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

County Council members Virginia P. Clagett and David G. Boschert arethe first to admit that $3,000 to $5,000 is a lot for local politicians to spend taking people out for lunch, dinner and drinks in one year.

They'll also tell you that wining and dining constituents, community leaders and political types and donating to churches, charities and other groups is an unavoidable expense for public figures, evenat the council level.

During the 1990 campaign, Boschert, D-Crownsville, and Clagett, D-West River, spent more money than any other council members on entertaining, according to campaign financial disclosure forms filed several times a year with the State Administrative Board of Elections. The elections board allows political candidates to write off entertaining as a "field expense," reimbursing themselves with money from their own campaign funds.

The latest forms, filed Nov. 27, 1990, show that Boschert and Clagett charged a total of $6,672 and $6,209, respectively, to their continuing campaign committees for field expenses during the last four years. Of that, Clagett spent $3,245 and Boschert $4,476 in the last year, from November 1989 through November 1990.

Clagett fought a tough election campaign in 1990, fending off severalprimary election opponents and narrowly winning the general contest. Boschert, in contrast, had one virtually unknown primary opponent and was unopposed in the general election. He raised more money than any other council member -- $99,000 -- and, after spending almost $74,000, has $25,300 left.

Other council candidates who claimed field expenses were newly elected councilmen Carl G. "Dutch" Holland, R-Pasadena, $1,138, and Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn, $10. Defeated candidates John Klocko III and Ernest Michaelson spent $58 and $40, respectively.

How did Clagett and Boschert spend so much?

"There are a lot of expenses to this office people don't realize," said Boschert. "Every time you go to a church function they think you have deep pockets and ask for money. What are you going to do? I'm not going to deny a church a donation."

Receipts show entertainment accounted for most of Boschert's and Clagett's field expenses. When they took someone to lunch or dinner or paid to attend social or charitable functions, they saved the receipts and periodically charged the campaign.

Boschert asked for personal reimbursements 18 times in the last year; his campaign paid him $2,589 for out-of-pocket expenses. Boschert also claimed $1,809 worth of charges to his American Express card as field expenses.

The councilman has been out of full-time work since July, but said he has not drawn a salary from the campaign even though election officials say they may do so under certain circumstances.

"I don't pay myself," Boschert said. "I just get reimbursed for what I put out.

"It's mostly . . . when I donate things to people ortake people out to dinner. If people are kind enough to buy a ticketto my fund-raiser, I am kind enough to take them out to lunch. Theseare constituents, not just business people."

His restaurant receipts range from a $4.50 meal at Burger King to $180.29 for a staff dinner at the Carrol's Creek Cafe in Annapolis.

"If I didn't exercise, I would be big as a house," Boschert said. "But I feel I owe it to my people (to treat them occasionally)."

Boschert also spent substantial amounts on fund-raiser tickets, donations and civic club dues.He paid $250 for two tickets to the Pink Lady Ball, a fund-raiser for Anne Arundel General Hospital; $60 for tickets to a dinner honoringBaltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke; $200 for a West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce fund-raiser; $100 to the American Cancer Society; and $100 to a fund-raiser for Light House, a homeless shelter in Annapolis.

Boschert said he would have spent just as much on donations if he'd had a tougher campaign. "As a matter of fact, it would have been more," he said. "I make it my business to be out in restaurants or an association like the Civitan. That's where the people are, and Iwant to be where the people are."

Clagett reimbursed herself four times in the last year for a total of $2,205. Her receipts show sheentertained people at many local restaurants. "I would rather buy people lunch than have them buy me lunch," she said. "These are all people who had something to do with the political process over the last three years, so it is a political expense."

After expenses, Clagett still has $17,500 sitting in her campaign expense account.

The state law describes field expenses as "transportation, lodging, meals,etc." Rebecca Babinec, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the state election board, said, "It's the same general rule for expenses as for business people. It's for small out-of-pocket expenses."

State law does not require candidates to submit receipts for field expenses, but Babinec said suspicious finance reports are checked after an annual in-house review. Also, selected reports are audited at random during an election year.

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