ROCKVILLE -- Republican Senate nominee Alan L. Keyes has decided to take the money and run.
Mr. Keyes announced yesterday he would continue paying himself $8,500 per month from campaign contributions, saying he needs the money to support his family while he runs against Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
"I'm not willing to subject my wife and family to undue hardship," said the 41-year-old candidate, appearing at a news conference with his wife, Jocelyn, and three children, ages 3, 6 and 9.
Mr. Keyes, a conservative Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Maryland's other Democratic senator, Paul S. Sarbanes, in 1988, said he had consulted with supporters, who backed his decision. He repeatedly lashed out at the "Democratically controlled press" for making an issue out of the practice.
He said his campaign-financed salary, disclosed two weeks ago by The Sun, represents a 58 percent pay cut from the $290,000 he earned last year from a conservative organization, Citizens Against Government Waste, and from speeches and newspaper columns.
The monthly stipend is "just enough so I can make sure my family wasn't turned out in the street," said Mr. Keyes, who owns a four-bedroom home in Montgomery County.
Despite the cheers of several dozen supporters on hand for the announcement, not all Republicans applauded Mr. Keyes' decision. The state party chairman was among those who expressed disappointment yesterday.
"It's not illegal. It's a perception problem," said Maryland GOP Chairman Joyce Lyons Terhes. "If I were him I would not have chosen this way to do it."
She said it would have been better for Mr. Keyes to take out a loan for living expenses during the campaign. The campaign-financed salary makes his Senate race "more difficult," she said.
Ms. Terhes added that calls and letters to Republican headquarters had been critical of the practice.
Mr. Keyes spent much of his news conference in a rambling tirade against the federal government, high taxes, Ms. Mikulski and the press.
Recalling that his father started out making $54 a month, Mr. Keyes, who is black, suggested that racism was behind the criticism of his personal finances.
"I imagine Barbara Mikulski and her ilk won't be satisfied until Alan Keyes is earning $54 a month," he said. "They don't want us to have any progress generation to generation. They find it deeply hateful and hurtful that people in this society should be able to make a couple of steps up the ladder . . . especially if they come from certain backgrounds or have certain skin color. It's sickening."
The GOP nominee claimed it wasn't unusual for candidates to pay themselves a salary. "It's done all the time," he said. "Being a candidate's a job. I don't know what all the fuss is."
When he ran against Mr. Sarbanes he also used campaign funds to pay living expenses, he said.
In fact, federal candidates almost never pay salaries to themselves from campaign accounts, though the practice has never been found to be illegal. The Federal Election Commission said in a 1980 advisory opinion that candidates have "wide discretion" in how they spend campaign funds, telling a candidate that year he could use campaign funds to pay for living expenses.
Again this year, the election commission failed to outlaw the practice after a GOP Senate candidate from Wisconsin, Roger Faulkner, asked if he could properly receive a $3,000 a month from campaign funds to cover his living expenses. The commission split 3-3 along party lines, with Democrats voting to make such payments illegal and Republicans ruling them permissible.
Responding to reporters' questions, Mr. Keyes said he will continue making speeches for money, adding that his standard fee is $3,500. He has made two speeches since November and has two more scheduled, including one Tuesday in Cincinnati.
"I will continue to do as much of that as I can within the constraint of the campaign," he said.
Mr. Keyes said that after the story of his salary came to light, he contemplated selling his home but feared he could not get back what he had paid for it.
"The result would not cover the mortgage plus the closing costs," he said. "We have a lot of beleaguered middle class people just like my- self."