WASHINGTON -- Republican Senate candidate Alan L. Keyes of Maryland is paying himself a salary of $8,500 a month from campaign funds, according to campaign officials and finance reports.
Although it is an unusual practice, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) cannot decide whether or not it is legal.
Keyes campaign officials said that their attorney had advised them that the practice is legal.
"He's not independently wealthy," said campaign spokesman Sean Paige, adding that Mr. Keyes, 41, needed the money to pay his mortgage and feed his family.
He noted that in order to run against incumbent Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Mr. Keyes gave up a $150,000 salary as head of a non-profit Washington group, Citizens Against Government Waste. He also gave up income from speeches and a syndicated newspaper column.
Mr. Paige noted that the salary comes from voluntary campaign contributions. He said campaign contributors would approve.
"I think they would," said Mr. Paige. "They know it's a full-time job to run against the Mikulski money machine."
Mr. Keyes' salary is disclosed in his most recent campaign finance report filed with the FEC. He is being paid $8,500 a month -- $102,000 a year -- from January through the election Nov. 3, said Allyson Bell, a Keyes campaign official.
Mr. Keyes defeated seven Republican opponents in the Maryland primary March 3. He has raised $469,000 this year, according to his campaign finance report.
The FEC said in a 1980 advisory opinion that candidates "have wide discretion" in spending campaign funds. The agency told a candidate that year that he could use campaign funds to pay for living expenses.
Under that broad standard, some candidates -- FEC officials do not know how many -- have used donations to pay for living expenses and salaries. For example, Maryland Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a 1st District Republican, paid himself $250 a week from campaign funds toward the end of his 1990 campaign.
But the issue was clouded when Roger Faulkner, a Republican running for the Senate in Wisconsin, asked the FEC in January if he could properly receive a $3,000 monthly salary from campaign funds to cover rent, food, child support and health care. In a letter March 6, the commission said it could not decide.
Although the commission staff concluded that such a salary was proper, the commissioners split 3-3 along party lines, with the three Democrats voting to reject the recommendation and outlaw payments.
"So you're doing it at your own risk," said Fred Eiland, a commission spokesman.
If somebody were to complain to the FEC about the salary, the agency would have to investigate. "How it would come out, I don't know," Mr. Eiland said.
Keyes campaign officials said they were not aware of the recent FEC case.
A spokesman for Ms. Mikulski said she has not drawn a salary from Senate campaign funds.
It is not known whether Mr. Faulkner actually paid himself a salary. He could not be reached for comment.