ANNAPOLIS -- U.S. Senate candidate Alan L. Keyes yesterday defended his decision to draw an $8,500-a-month salary from campaign contributions, calling himself a workingman trying to make ends meet.
"I work for a living and I don't mind saying that I am proud of being a working person," the Republican challenger said. "I believe that I earn my wage."
In the midst of a news conference decrying the high rate of taxation in the United States, Mr. Keyes found himself responding to questions about personal use of campaign funds.
His own party's state chair, Joyce L. Terhes, had questions of her own. She offered her reservations after the news conference.
"The perception just does not come across well," said Mrs. Terhes, who advised the Keyes campaign months ago to find another way to cover the candidate's personal financial needs.
The size of the salary -- more than $100,000 on an annual basis -- makes questions more difficult to handle, she said.
While there are legitimate concerns about the power of incumbents in races against challengers, she said, the rules about personal use of campaign funds have to be clarified for everyone.
"Either it's legal and everybody can do it, or it's not legal," Mrs. Terhes said. Done the way Mr. Keyes has chosen, she said, "It just sends the wrong message: taking money for one thing and using it for something else."
Candidates have typically taken loans during a campaign. Ms. Terhes said few had borrowed from their campaign funds.
Mr. Keyes said he thinks the salary he is drawing is reasonable and would be acceptable to his contributors -- though he deflected a question about whether he told them in advance of his decision to take a salary.
"The perception may be out there that I should not be paid. What am I, a slave? My ancestors went through that kind of slavery. Do I have to go through it, too?" said Mr. Keyes, who is black.
Mr. Keyes tried to turn the fire on his opponent, demanding "an accounting" of the hours spent campaigning by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.
"The taxpayers are paying her expenses on the campaign trail, and I'd like to know why," he charged.
"Why doesn't she reimburse that part of her salary that is paid while she is on the campaign trail and pay for it honestly and openly out of campaign funds? . . . My supporters are paying my VTC expenses," he said.
John Steele, Ms. Mikulski's press secretary, said the senator had not campaigned on government time.
"The senator has always maintained a fire wall between Senate business and campaign business," he said.
"Alan Keyes appears to be getting a little desperate very early in the process. He's simply trying to deflect the spotlight from his own problems," Mr. Steele said.