$20,000 paid to Clarke questioned

April 19, 1995|By Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich | Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's re-election committee is raising questions again about the campaign finances of rival Mary Pat Clarke -- this time about payments of roughly $20,000 made from Citizens for Clarke to Mrs. Clarke during her tenure as City Council president.

In a statement aimed yesterday at keeping the political spotlight on Mrs. Clarke's campaign finances for the third week in a row, the Kurt Schmoke Committee questioned whether the money paid to Mrs. Clarke was for "legitimate campaign expenses." It also asked why money for political fund-raisers was not listed in campaign reports under a column for transfers between candidates.

"What is Mary Pat Clarke trying to hide?" the statement asked.

The Clarke campaign dismissed the statement, saying the campaign money that went to Mrs. Clarke was to pay her back for legal and reasonable expenses.

"This is much ado about little," said S. Ronald Ellison, campaign treasurer for Mrs. Clarke, who is challenging the mayor's bid for a third term in September's Democratic primary. "There isn't a check written to her that wasn't a reimbursement for money out of her pocket. We're not dishonest. We're not trying to hide anything."

Mr. Ellison conceded that money paid by Mrs. Clarke to buy tickets to fund-raisers was not listed in the proper column on her campaign reports, but he said that was the result of "human error" by a previous campaign treasurer.

At his weekly news briefing Thursday, Mr. Schmoke accused Mrs. Clarke of deliberately trying to conceal her campaign activities by failing to file updated finance statements in the 18 months since she decided to challenge him. Mrs. Clarke brushed off his attack as "a red herring" designed to distract voters' attention from problems facing the city.

Mr. Schmoke's accusations followed news reports two weeks ago that Mrs. Clarke was more than nine weeks late in filing a required campaign report and that her finance statements throughout her tenure as City Council president contain numerous discrepancies and errors. The mayor's campaign chairman said at the time that Mrs. Clarke's "sloppy" financial reports called into question her ability to handle the finances of a city with an annual budget of more than $2 billion.

Computer-generated lists of payments by Citizens for Clarke to Mrs. Clarke dating to 1987 began circulating anonymously to reporters late Friday afternoon.

Even before yesterday's statement by the Schmoke committee, the Clarke campaign made available hundreds of documents of campaign expenses, including canceled checks written by Mrs. Clarke and her requests for reimbursements.

They showed payments from Mrs. Clarke as recently as March to a variety of organizations, ranging from Charles Village Community Association dues to the Baltimore NAACP breakfast.

Rebecca M. Wicklund, who oversees campaign finance reports for the state elections board, said it is "not unusual for candidates to be reimbursed for expenses." Field expenses are not necessarily limited to direct campaign activities, she said.

The documents provided by Mrs. Clarke's campaign also show that she contributed money to a number of political candidates over the years, almost all in amounts of less than $100. Among the candidates: state Dels. Salima S. Marriott and Hattie N. Harrison; City Council members John L. Cain and Anthony J. Ambridge; and, as recently as 1991, Mr. Schmoke.

In those cases, the political contributions were lumped together -- incorrectly -- on campaign reports with other expenses.

Such contributions should be reported as a "transfer" and should list the name of the candidate, Ms. Wicklund said. That is important to allow the candidate and those receiving the donation to keep accurate accounts, she added.

In some of Mrs. Clarke's reports, some contributions to other candidates were properly listed as a transfer. They include a $120 contribution to the state Democratic Party and a $250 contribution to state Del. Maggie L. McIntosh in 1993.

Ms. Wicklund said that at the request of the Clarke campaign her office has done "a very surface review and [has] advised her of the areas that need to be corrected."

The office does not have the authority to take further action, she said. "That comes under the office of the state special prosecutor."

The special prosecutor, Stephen Montanarelli, said that as of yesterday his office had not received any complaints about the Clarke campaign reports. The Kurt Schmoke Committee does not intend to file a complaint with the special prosecutor, spokesman Craig Kirby said.

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