Clarke 9 weeks late with required report


Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Pat Clarke is nine weeks late in filing a required campaign report, and her finance statements throughout her tenure as City Council president contain numerous discrepancies and errors, records show.

The most recent report, designed to cover contributions and expenditures for the past three months of 1994, had not been filed as of yesterday. Among the discrepancies and mistakes, dating from 1987 -- when Mrs. Clarke was elected council president -- through last November, are unsigned finance reports, unacknowledged deficits, missing checks and incorrect

entries for contributions and expenses.

News of the tardiness and problems with her reports prompted a sharp exchange between the chief political strategists for Mrs. Clarke and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is seeking a third term.

Charging that Mrs. Clarke's financial statements are "inaccurate, sloppy and misleading," Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's campaign chairman, said they call into question her ability to handle the finances of a city with a $2.2 billion yearly budget.

"How can she ask the taxpayers to have her balance the city budget if she can't balance her campaign checkbook?" Mr. Gibson said.

But Mrs. Clarke's campaign manager and her treasurer said they were working to complete the missing report and correct what they described as minor bookkeeping mistakes. They also dismissed the concerns raised by Mr. Gibson, saying he was trying to deflect attention away from more pressing problems facing Baltimore.

"This is just an attempt by Larry Gibson to deflect from the current policies and the ethical issues of this administration," said Cheryl Benton, Mrs. Clarke's campaign manager.

The largest sum of contributions in her reports totaled $96,516. The most Mrs. Clarke spent in campaign expenses was $99,651. The figures were contained on her November 1994 report of the accounts of Citizens for Clarke committee.

Mrs. Clarke and Mayor Schmoke declined to discuss the matter, leaving their campaign staffs to comment.

The overdue financial statement and reporting irregularities, the latter of which first surfaced Wednesday night on WBAL-TV, involve Mrs. Clarke's continuing campaign committee. Her treasurer, Ronald Ellison, said Citizens for Clarke has been defunct but not closed since she announced her mayoral ambition in the fall of 1993. Mrs. Clarke has set up a separate fund-raising committee for her 1995 campaign, which does not have to file its first report until Aug. 17.

All elected officials and candidates who have continuing campaign committees were required to file a supplemental statement by Jan. 31 to cover a three-month gap in the usual election reporting cycle, said Rebecca M. Wicklund, director of campaign finances for the state election board. Most did, including Mayor Schmoke, but the board issued reminders to a few elected officials with outstanding reports, she said. The board is not assessing the standard late fee of $10 a day for the supplemental finance report because it's a new requirement.

State election officials have cited deficiencies in Mrs. Clarke's continuing campaign committee nearly every year since 1987. Most were for incorrect entries, a fairly common mistake on campaign reports, according to Ms. Wicklund.

More serious problems cited include failing to list the total amount given by individual campaign contributors, a way of tracking whether they exceed the limit of $4,000 over four years. The most recent campaign report from Citizens for Clarke, which was filed Nov. 29, also was unsigned and showed the committee outspent revenues by $3,134 but listed no outstanding debts.

Mr. Schmoke's Jan. 31 report showed a cash balance of $251,225.

The Clarke campaign committee listed the same $3,134 deficit for 1993, and a $4,021 deficit for 1992, and each time showed no debts.

Mr. Gibson asked how the campaign was covering the deficit and noted that the last contribution reported dates to November 1993. "The issue is whether this is bad bookkeeping or an intentional effort to hide the financial aspects of her campaign," he said.

Clarke campaign officials said no money is owed to anyone and blamed the reported deficit on mistakes in adding contributions and expenditures. All contributions made to Mrs. Clarke in the past 18 months, including the proceeds from a December fund-raiser, went into the new account, they said.

"I want to stress that nothing illegal was done," Ms. Benton said.

Three years ago, election officials detailed in a letter to her campaign treasurer deficiencies from 1987 to 1990 that included 61 unaccounted-for checks. Another 19 checks had the same number but were made out to different people, the letter said. Six others were apparently reported twice, it added.

Mrs. Clarke's treasurer for her continuing campaign, William F. Eberhart Jr., could not be reached for comment yesterday. But ** Ms. Wicklund said he told her this week that "some of the items were taken care of in subsequent reports" and he would make any outstanding corrections when he returned. Ms. Benton said checks with the same number came from different accounts.

In the past both candidates have missed filing deadlines by a few days. Mrs. Clarke has had to pay fines three times for late finance reports totaling $250. Mr. Schmoke also has been tardy and had to pay fines four times for a total of $140.

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