Mitchells' spending rift widens

Candidate challenges father's use of other funds

August 16, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

City Councilman and mayoral candidate Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. is challenging more than $56,000 in campaign expenditures made by his father -- a significant increase over his original estimate -- according to campaign finance reports released yesterday that offer new insight into this year's election.

In all, the campaign is challenging 61 expenditures, including 15 that aides said they were not originally aware of when Mitchell announced in early August that his father, Dr. Keiffer J. Mitchell Sr., had resigned as the campaign's treasurer.

"After we looked through everything, we found other things that we believe should have been challenged," said Mitchell campaign manager Jayson Williams when asked why the number of challenged expenditures was higher than the approximately $40,000 the campaign said was at issue earlier this month.

The campaign finance reports, which are required by state law, show Mayor Sheila Dixon with a commanding lead in the money race, having raised nearly $1.2 million with $720,000 left to spend. Mitchell raised more than $640,000 and has nearly $163,000 on hand.

Of the eight candidates running in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary, schools administrator Andrey Bundley had the next-largest campaign fund. Records show he raised nearly $56,000 since Jan. 11 and that he has more than $15,000 left to spend. Del. Jill P. Carter, who is also running for the job, had $8,110.

"What you'll see is a diversity of support for Mayor Dixon from across the city," said Dixon campaign manager Martha McKenna. "People are recognizing the strength of Baltimore."

Mitchell's campaign has focused its attention on what aides say is a stepped-up fundraising effort in recent weeks. According to the reports, Mitchell has raised about 55 percent of his money since June 1, while Dixon raised about 38 percent of her money since then. Still, Dixon out-raised Mitchell by more than $100,000 in that period.

"The way we look at it, Keiffer has been building a lot of momentum in the final few weeks just before the fundraising report," Williams said. "It just shows that there's a great grass-roots momentum for Keiffer Mitchell."

Dixon's campaign finance report was not without its own noteworthy expenses. Janice Dixon, the mayor's sister, appears on the campaign's payroll and received nearly $2,000. A company owned by Janice Dixon, Imani-Ellison LLC, received $18,754.

Janice Dixon was in the news in 2003 when The Sun revealed that she worked in the then-council president's office as a paid employee. Sheila Dixon was forced to fire her in November 2003 after the city's ethics board ruled her employment violated city regulations.

She was at the center of another dispute involving the mayor last year. A series of articles in The Sun showed how Mayor Dixon -- then the president of the City Council -- voted to approve city contracts to a company that employed her sister. The city's ethics law prohibits public officials from participating in "any matter" that involves a sibling's interest or the interest of a relative's employer.

Mitchell announced Aug. 2 that his father, a prominent doctor, resigned from the campaign after the two disagreed about more than $40,000 in expenses that the candidate said were questionable. For example, the campaign had noted that more than $14,000 had been spent at the Burkshire Marriott in Towson to cover the cost of a stay for the candidate's mother to recover from knee surgery.

But yesterday's report showed that more than $20,000 had been spent on the hotel in a dozen payments between May and July. Six monthly payments to BGE Home, each for about $1,100, were listed. Another $9,500 had been spent in checks written to cash -- the report shed no new light on who received that money.

The report showed that $350 in challenged money went to Baltimore resident Jimmy Harris -- though previous reports show that Harris received $1,000 from the campaign in 2006.

A man who identified himself as James Harris answered the phone at the address listed on Mitchell's finance report but referred a reporter to his brother, "Jimmy." Harris said he was not sure how to reach his brother: "He usually calls here."

The elder Mitchell held a news conference Aug. 6 and said through his attorneys that the money he spent on the hotel, for instance, was a legitimate campaign expense because fundraising calls were being made from the hotel room. His attorneys argued that the practice of writing checks to cash is acceptable. State election officials disagreed with that contention.

William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr., who is the elder Mitchell's lead attorney, did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment. Murphy has said his client reimbursed the campaign for the approximately $40,000 in initially identified expenses to settle the issue. Mitchell campaign officials said they have not been reimbursed for the additional $16,000 in expenditures that were recently discovered.

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