WASHINGTON -- Alan L. Keyes, the Baltimore radio talk-show host who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, owes $44,000 in back debts from his unsuccessful run for a U.S. Senate seat in Maryland in 1992.
Mr. Keyes has failed to answer five letters sent to him in the past three years by the Federal Election Commission, which asked him to report on the standing of his campaign debt, according to FEC documents.
Under federal law, a congressional candidate must file semiannually with the FEC after a campaign until all debts and obligations are met.
By failing to file a report with the FEC, which was revealed in this week's U.S. News and World Report, Mr. Keyes may have violated the Federal Election Campaign Act and could face civil penalties of up to twice the amount he owes.
"He just stopped filing after the 1992 election," said Ian Stirton, an FEC spokesman. "We haven't gotten anything."
Mr. Keyes, in an interview yesterday, said he was aware of the debt and the failure to answer the FEC's letters. But he said his campaign staff, not he, is overseeing the debt directly.
"I know there is a debt, but it will be paid off and resolved," he said. "An accountant is looking into it."
Citing the difficulty of raising money to pay back an old campaign debt, Mr. Keyes said much of the money is being raised by renting out his 1992 campaign contributors list.
"It's the hardest sort of money to raise, but it'll happen," said Mr. Keyes, who was en route yesterday to a number of stops for his presidential campaign. This week, he plans to campaign in Iowa, as well as in Montgomery, Ala., and Atlanta, where his presidential campaign is based.
Mr. Keyes, a former Reagan administration official, failed in his last two political campaigns.
He lost bids to unseat both of Maryland's Democratic senators -- Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in 1988 and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in 1992.
Bob Stern, co-director of the California Commission on Campaign Financing, a nonprofit national research group, noted that Mr. Keyes' situation is not particularly unusual.
"A lot of candidates owe a lot of money, particularly when they lose," Mr. Stern said. "It's very usual that they don't pay them off when they lose."
Federal law and the FEC give Mr. Keyes' an alternative to paying the entire debt.
A debtor can file for a settlement, Mr. Stirton said. Under this option, the debtor must come to terms with his creditors and then ask the FEC to accept the terms.
In addition, federal law gives the FEC authority to negotiate with the offender to determine a civil penalty. It is up to the commission to determine what, if any, penalty there might be, Mr. Stirton said.
The penalty would depend on whether Mr. Keyes knowingly broke the law.
In the most extreme cases, a debtor could face a penalty of up to twice what he or she owes, said Kelly Huff, an FEC spokeswoman.
"Every case is taken on its own" merit, Ms. Huff said.