Crying Poor on $100,000

May 06, 1992

It may be legal for Alan Keyes, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, to draw an $8,500-a-month salary from his campaign treasury to pay his mortgage and living expenses. But the amount involved certainly is unusual -- more than $100,000 on an annual basis. That much money hardly jibes with Mr. Keyes' portrayal of himself as just an ordinary working man trying to make ends meet.

Since 1980, candidates have had wide latitude in how they spend money they raise under federal campaign finance rules. Most candidates take out loans during campaigns. But relatively few borrow from their own campaign war chests. It is rare for them to pay themselves salary from campaign funds to cover living expenses.

First District Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, for example, paid himself a small salary of $250 a week from campaign funds toward the end of his 1990 campaign. But in January the Federal Elections Commission split on whether Roger Faulkner, a Republican Senate candidate in Wisconsin, could properly draw a $3,000 monthly salary from campaign funds to cover rent, food, child support and health care. A commission spokesman said the decision leaves it unclear whether the practice is legal and warned that candidates who engage in it now do so at their own risk.

Mr. Keyes contends that he needs the money because he gave up his $150,000-a-year job as president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based advocacy group, to run for the Senate. Since the group includes a lobbying arm, Mr. Keyes was obliged by conflict of interest laws to step down as head of the organization. He also says the fat campaign-fund salary is reasonable and would be acceptable to his contributors.

But GOP state party leader Joyce Terhes, for one, has questioned Mr. Keyes' judgment in the matter. "The perception does not come across well," she said. "It just sends the wrong message: taking money for one thing and using it for something else." Mr. Keyes is already fighting a perception that he is not really a Maryland candidate so much as a national Republican who happens to live in Washington's Maryland suburbs. And the humble working man pose he has adopted in response to criticism is less than convincing. The last thing he needs is a suggestion that he views running for office as just another high-paying, temporary job.

Yesterday, Mr. Keyes issued a two-page statement in which he promised, among other things, to stop drawing his campaign-fund salary if his friends, family and supporters urge him to do so over the next few days. If they value his candidacy they certainly will. Let us hope that Mr. Keyes then has the good sense to take their advice.

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