Welch's campaign finances examined

State prosecutors question reports

son's lawyer says issue is record-keeping

October 25, 2003|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

As a professional accountant who prepared campaign finance reports for City Councilwoman Agnes Welch, William A. Welch Jr. should know his mother's political assets down to the penny.

It's not that hard to keep track.

According to Welch's reports, the balances for her two campaign accounts didn't change by a single cent for years.

Those identical finance reports - which do not reflect any bank fees or interest, contributions or expenses - have prompted state prosecutors to investigate Welch's campaign finances, a law enforcement source and William Welch's attorney said yesterday.

Prosecutors also are looking into whether Agnes Welch had campaign literature printed at city expense for September's primary, the source said.

"It has nothing to do with Agnes, really," said David B. Irwin, William Welch's attorney. "It has to do with record-keeping, which is her son's nickel."

Welch, a 20-year council veteran, has two campaign accounts: Friends of Agnes Welch and Committee for Agnes Welch.

A report filed with the State Board of Elections states that the now-inactive Friends account had a balance of $9,529.02 in November 1999. Precisely the same balance is listed on reports for November 2000, November 2001, August 2002, November 2002, January 2003, and most recently, August 2003.

Similarly, the Committee for Agnes Welch account shows a balance of $34,314.68 on eight reports, from November 1999 to January 2003.

A report filed for August - after state prosecutors launched their investigation and a month before the Democratic primary - is the first to show some activity in the account.

"It would seem reasonable that there should be some change in the cash balance," said Ross Goldstein, director of candidacy and campaign finance with the state elections board. "At a minimum, there should be some expenditures, some change."

Irwin said he did not know why the account balances did not change over the years.

"We're looking into it as well," he said. "I'm absolutely positive there [was] no attempt to circumvent the law. If anything, if there's a mistake in record-keeping, then that would be the limit of what I believe will be forthcoming."

When it was noted that William Welch might be expected to keep good financial records as a certified public accountant, Irwin said, "He's certainly a busy CPA."

Irwin stressed that William Welch, chairman of the campaign committees, was the subject of the investigation - and that his mother wasn't.

"I've been a Baltimore-area resident all my life of 55 years, and Agnes has done a heck of a lot for Baltimore," he said. "One thing I'd like to say is that there's no allegation there was any wrongdoing on her part. I can tell you that she's not the subject of the state prosecutor's inquiry."

Agnes and William Welch did not respond to calls seeking comment.

State prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said he could neither confirm nor deny any investigation.

This is not the first time that William Welch's role in his mother's campaigns has come under scrutiny.

He pleaded guilty in February 2000 and received a suspended sentence and probation for reckless endangerment, second-degree assault and discharging a firearm. The charges stemmed from an incident in which a woman said William Welch shot at her after she demanded the $40 he promised her for working the polls for Agnes Welch in the 1999 primary.

He received probation before judgment in another case, in which he was charged with paying Election Day poll workers in September 1999. The practice has since been legalized.

Mitchell Klein, head organizer for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which backed Welch's opponent in the primary, said he brought the identical financial reports to the attention of state prosecutors.

"People who run for office should understand the rules of being in office," he said.

Prosecutors are also investigating whether Agnes Welch had campaign literature printed at city expense - another allegation brought by Klein.

A brochure apparently produced by Welch's council office lists handy phone numbers for senior citizens while also promoting her as "a go-getter."

Klein said the councilwoman blanketed the city's new 9th District with the brochures just before the primary. The brochures bear her City Hall address and phone number. There is no credit line identifying who financed the material as required for campaign literature.

A law-enforcement source confirmed that prosecutors are investigating how the materials were paid for.

Irwin, however, said he was not aware of that. He dismissed the allegation as a post-election political tactic by a group that failed to unseat the councilwoman.

"They're anti-Agnes, so it doesn't surprise me that their sour grapes would start to ferment," he said.

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