Bell campaign spends $4,300 to clothe him

Expenditure legal, but some observers question its propriety

August 21, 1999|By Scott Shane and Ivan Penn | Scott Shane and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Evidently seeking a dapper look on the mayoral campaign trail, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III spent $4,323 in campaign contributions on his wardrobe during an April trip to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Bell's shopping trip -- which was legal under state law but drew barbed comments from some political observers -- was part of $475,800 his campaign spent through July 1. He has spent more than twice as much as either of his major rivals, Carl Stokes, who reported spending $200,262, and Martin O'Malley, who said he has spent $153,806, both for seven months.

The expenditures, reported to the state Board of Elections this week, are supposed to be for the period Jan. 1 through Aug. 10.

Rebecca Wicklund, a state elections board official, said the Bell campaign's failure to report six weeks of contributions and expenses will be reviewed. "We would have to determine exactly what happened before we proceeded," she said.

Bell's campaign Chairwoman Tammy Hawley blamed unreported expenditures on a computer glitch.

The biggest expense of Bell's and Stokes' campaigns has been for campaign operatives and consultants.

Bell's campaign has paid $213,277 in salaries. That includes $42,800 for Hawley and $28,000 for political strategist Julius Henson, whom Bell fired after Bell supporters disrupted an O'Malley endorsement rally.

The campaign also paid $13,500 to Impact Solutions Inc., a company registered with the state in February by Marshall C. Bell, Bell's brother and campaign manager.

Stokes' campaign said it has paid $93,936 in salaries and fees, with the largest amount -- $27,416 -- going to Christensen McDevitt, a Washington-based consulting firm that was formerly Stokes' fund-raiser. Terry Taylor, the campaign's field director, has received $13,750, while $9,750 went to Harper & Associates, a consulting company operated by Northeast Baltimore political activist Nina Harper.

O'Malley's campaign reported $21,596 in salaries and fees -- less than the $32,044 spent on printing campaign materials. Kentucky fund-raising consultant James Cauley -- who also works for Bell -- received the most, $4,096.

Bell's clothing purchase -- apparently the only one by a major candidate -- prompted criticism yesterday from people who questioned whether it was an appropriate use of contributors' money.

"I just want to know if I can use my campaign finances to go to Big and Tall," said state Del. Howard P. Rawlings of Baltimore, who has endorsed O'Malley. "If I did go there, I would at least shop here in Baltimore."

Bell is "in the wrong business. It sounds to me like he should be in the entertainment business," said Kathleen Skullney, executive director of Common Cause, a political watchdog group.

Skullney said the Saks listing is "exactly what disclosure is all about," because it gives the public valuable information.

"It's truly up to the contributors to decide if this demonstrates good fiscal responsibility and therefore this guy should be in charge of Baltimore," she said. "He was forthright about it. He put it on his disclosure statement. Obviously, he believes this is OK with his campaign supporters."

Bell could not be reached for comment last night. Hawley called the clothing purchase reasonable for a mayoral candidate.

"It is not outside the guidelines of proper expenditures," she said.

That's correct, as long as the clothing is specifically intended to advance Bell's candidacy, said Kathleen Hoke Dachille, an assistant state attorney general and counsel for election law.

"Under certain circumstances, an expenditure of campaign funds for clothing is appropriate," she said. "The question would be: Does it enhance the campaign? Does it promote the candidacy?"

If it does, the purchase is legal, she said. But there's a caveat: When the campaign is over, the candidate must sell the clothing and put the proceeds in his campaign fund.

"It's a little awkward with clothes. There's not much of a market for a used suit," Dachille said. "But if these things retain value after the campaign, they could not be usurped for personal use."

An exception, she said, might be a candidate who immediately began campaigning for another office, wearing the same clothes.

She said the attorney general's office has advised several candidates on the point in the past, including the late Harry Kelley, the longtime mayor of Ocean City, who spent nearly $3,500 in campaign funds for clothing during his unsuccessful 1982 run for governor. Another query came from a forgotten politician who wanted to buy his first tuxedo, she said.

Dachille said the attorney general's office warns candidates that such purchases may not look right, even when legal.

"We advise them that they should consider the appearance that it might not be appropriate," she said.

Sun staff writer Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

Contributions of $750 or more to Baltimore mayoral candidates

Lawrence A. Bell III

Democrat

111 Mercer Street Inc., Baltimore 2,000

22 Light Street, LLC, Baltimore 1,500

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