The state prosecutor has cleared Del. Thomas Hattery of any criminal improprieties in his legislative expense accounts, but the report doesn't come close to cleaning up the mud the candidates are flinging in the 6th District congressional race.
Roscoe Bartlett, the GOP candidate, leveled the charges of improper expenses against Mr. Hattery, the Frederick Democrat who defeated incumbent Beverly B. Byron in the primary.
In a seven-page letter to Mr. Bartlett, prosecutor Stephen Montanarel li cited state regulations to explain why Mr. Hattery's procedure for billing the state for his lodging and meal expenses was not illegal.
"The state prosecutor's report is not surprising, but it is disappointing," said Jim Lafferty, spokesman for the Bartlett campaign. "He took seven pages to come to one simple conclusion, that Maryland lawmakers can be paid expense money for meals they don't eat and hotel rooms they don't use."
Mr. Hattery said, "I find it ironic that Roscoe Bartlett, who is campaigning to cut wasteful government spending, would waste the state prosecutor's time and money to investigate his politically motivated charges. . . . This is just another example of Roscoe's long history of lies, distortions and half-truths."
The original charges, which the Bartlett campaign first characterized as "an embezzlement scheme," held that Mr. Hattery charged his legislative expense account for an Annapolis hotel room on nights he was not there and for meals he had not eaten. Mr. Montanarelli concluded that Mr. Hattery's practice of renting a room for the entire 90-day session -- at a special rate of $53 a night, instead of the regular $110 -- was in line with approved practices and necessary to get the reduced rate.
He also found that Mr. Hattery's expense accounts for meals -- which on numerous occasions listed $5 for breakfast, $10 for lunch and $20 for dinner, adding up to the maximum allowable $35 per day -- were in accordance with the Legislative Accounting Office's guidelines, which do not require meal receipts.
Mr. Lafferty charged that Mr. Hattery was cleared only because the legislature essentially polices itself on these matters. "All a legislator has to do is fill out a form and the money is handed over," he said of legislative expense accounts. "This amounts to a slush fund of tax-free income."
In his statement, Mr. Hattery said that Mr. Bartlett has "spent taxpayer dollars sending the special prosecutor on a wild-goose chase in a cynical attempt to divert attention from issues that matter, like finding good jobs and educating our kids."
However, Mr. Hattery said that his recent charges that Mr. Bartlett is a hypocrite for accepting $5,000 in farm subsidy payments while opposing that program and that he is a liar for saying he was too young for the World War II draft when he had a divinity school deferment, are not such diversions.
"These go to the credibility of the candidate," Mr. Hattery said. "Can the voters believe what Roscoe Bartlett says? I think that the people deserve someone of honesty and integrity in Congress."