Mitchell's father quits campaign under cloud

He spent $40,000 from treasury on personal items, repaid money

Mitchell campaign says father has repaid funds in question

Sun Exclusive

August 03, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Dr. Keiffer J. Mitchell, father of Baltimore mayoral candidate Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., spent more than $40,000 of his son's campaign funds for personal expenses over several months and resigned yesterday as his campaign treasurer after the errant spending was discovered, according to a statement from the campaign released to The Sun.

In one instance, the elder Mitchell spent more than $14,000 to pay for his wife's stay at a Towson hotel as she recovered from knee surgery, Mitchell campaign sources said.

An additional $19,000 in checks were made payable to cash or wound up in unknown hands. Additional money was spent on insurance and house repair work.

State law prohibits political campaigns from spending political money - derived almost entirely from corporate and individual campaign contributions - on personal expenses unless the costs directly benefit the candidate, state election officials said.

In a statement released by his campaign yesterday, Mitchell said his father had reimbursed the money.

"I love my father, and this is personally very difficult for me, for him, my mother and my family," Mitchell, a city councilman, said in the statement. "But the steps I have instructed the campaign to take are necessary and appropriate. I am committed to giving the voters of Baltimore a choice."

It is not clear why Mitchell's father - a well-known internal medicine doctor and gastroenterologist with his own practice - used the campaign money. The spending would have been made public when the campaign filed its pre-primary finance report with the state this month.

Campaign officials said Mitchell, who announced his candidacy for mayor in January, will answer questions about the spending today. Phone calls placed to the elder Mitchell's medical practice and his home were not returned. No one answered the door at his St. Paul Street home last night.

According to a list of expenses provided by the campaign, Mitchell's father spent $14,151 to pay for a hotel stay at the Burkshire Marriott in Towson while the candidate's mother was recovering from knee surgery so that she could avoid stairs in her home.

He made out $7,220 in checks to cash and spent $1,406 on individuals not known to the campaign.

And $10,350 was spent on checks made out to the elder Mitchell's wife but cashed by someone other than her, according to the campaign.

More than $300 in payments were made to State Farm Insurance, $5,325 went to BG&E Home and $993 was paid to a roofing company, the document showed.

As treasurer, Mitchell's father was the legal gatekeeper for all receipts and spending of the campaign. After his resignation, the campaign hired a Washington-based CPA, William D. Mulholland, as the campaign's official treasurer.

The campaign will also hire a second CPA to perform a thorough review of all finances, Mitchell's statement said.

This is not the first time that it has been alleged that a family member misspent money from a relative's campaign account in Maryland. Earlier this summer, a grand jury indicted the son of an East Baltimore delegate, Hattie N. Harrison, on charges that he stole from her campaign finance account. The son and the delegate have denied the allegation.

Lenneal J. Henderson, a professor at the University of Baltimore's school of public affairs, said it is unclear how much of a problem the news could be for Mitchell's campaign.

On the one hand, questions could emerge about the candidate's judgment, he said. On the other, some voters might feel sympathy for the family.

"It could go either way," Henderson said.

"I don't think it's impossible to get around it, but it is very difficult. When it's within the family like that, it's very hard to separate yourself from the stain. This is very, very tragic because this young man, aside from whether you can endorse him or not, is just a decent guy."

Mitchell does not intend to press charges in the case, according the campaign, but the Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor, which typically handles campaign finance investigations, could on its own decide to look into the matter.

Mitchell is running to unseat Mayor Sheila Dixon in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary. Asked about the incident yesterday, Dixon's campaign manager, Martha McKenna, said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mitchell family."

Mitchell has made his family a central theme of his campaign. In his most recent television advertisement, Mitchell paid homage to his grandfather, Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., who was a leading national figure in the civil rights movement. His great-uncle, Parren J. Mitchell, a pioneering African-American member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland, died in May.

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