Keyes makes a living from running

July 30, 1995|By Paul West and Susan Baer | Paul West and Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- As he preaches the politics of virtue, Alan Keyes is discovering the virtue of politics as a profession. In a '90s version of the American dream, he is making a living by running for president.

Though his candidacy has yet to catch on with most Republicans, the Baltimore radio talk-show host has wowed conservatives with fire-breathing speeches and ardent anti-abortion orations.

But in the process he is repeating a pattern that emerged in his unsuccessful 1992 Senate race in Maryland: a mingling of personal and campaign finances in apparent indifference to campaign ethics, if not the law.

Since announcing his candidacy in March, Mr. Keyes has continued to collect thousands of dollars in speaking fees. He has traveled to more than 30 states to spread his message and raise money for his campaign.

In the past six months, Mr. Keyes, 45, pocketed more than $35,000, plus expenses, in fees, honorariums and "love offerings" for his personal appearances before conservative groups and religious congregations, according to Arthur Rocker, his former finance director.

The campaign launched a bitter attack on Mr. Rocker on Friday, one day after Mr. Keyes was interviewed by The Sun about his finances, blaming the former aide for whatever irregularities might have occurred.

Among the questionable practices was Mr. Keyes' use of paid campaign staff to arrange personal speaking engagements. He also commuted to work at a radio station in a campaign-supplied limousine. Both actions may have violated Federal Election Commission rules against personal use of campaign funds.

In the interview, Mr. Keyes reacted indignantly when asked if his actions could be seen as an attempt to use his presidential campaign to enrich himself.

"I think all of these questions are stupid questions. People who run for office have to keep on living," he said. "Why are you insulting my intelligence with these stupid questions? . . . The distinction between the campaign and my personal life is an absurd distinction, because I've got no personal life and haven't had one for months."

'These stupid FEC rules'

The FEC approved new regulations in February to clarify its ban on the personal use of campaign funds by candidates. The rules require candidates to reimburse their treasuries whenever political contributions are used to pay personal living expenses.

Mr. Keyes, who makes clear his disdain for "these stupid FEC rules," has failed to file a financial disclosure report, despite repeated requests from the agency. He is the only Republican presidential candidate who has neither filed nor requested an extension. Mr. Keyes says he was "too busy to do it."

The payment of honorariums or speaking fees to a candidate is legal, but unusual. As a general practice, candidates give up activities such as speechmaking for pay, writing columns or conducting talk shows once they begin their campaigns.

Another Republican hopeful who makes his living that way, Patrick J. Buchanan, did just that, according to his campaign press secretary.

"He feels that he's campaigning now for votes, and that's his job and and his business," said spokesman Greg Mueller. "I don't think he would think it's correct to do that [accept speaking fees] now."

But Mr. Keyes is adamant about his right to continue earning a living. He has no plans to stop taking speaking fees, he says.

"Whether it's unusual or not unusual, there's nothing immoral about it," he said. "There's nothing unethical about it. There is nothing that is at all questionable about it."

The blurred lines

In fact, Mr. Keyes' efforts to wear two hats are causing problems for his campaign, as internal memos and interviews with present and former campaign officials make clear.

A June 28 letter from the campaign's accountant, George F. Lynch Jr., warns of "possible commingling of personal and campaign moneys . . . if the situation which has been reported is not remedied immediately, all of the other efforts to elect Alan Keyes for President could be in jeopardy."

A June 21 memo from the campaign's lawyer, C. Michael Tarone, urges the candidate to "erect a Chinese Wall between the run for office and your other life."

But that has not been the way the campaign has functioned.

Typical of the blurred lines was an appearance last month at the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Mr. Keyes, whose speech was nationally televised, was introduced, according to pastor John Hagee, as "a candidate for the office of the president of the United States."

Congregation members were invited by Dr. Hagee to make a contribution as they left the church. Mr. Keyes raised $7,200 in cash and checks, according to Mr. Rocker and another former campaign aide who asked not to be identified.

"Normally, what the churches try to do is stay out of politics"

because it could jeopardize their tax-exempt status, Mr. Rocker said. "What the minister will say, instead, is 'Let's give him a love offering.' "

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