Maryland taxpayers are footing the bill for an unlisted telephone at the home of state Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks of Baltimore.
The delegate's expense records show he has been charging the state for the phone line since taking office in January. The bills have averaged about $35 a month.
The West Baltimore Democrat defended the expense, saying he uses the phone for state business and lists the number on his business cards so constituents can call him there. He said he pays for a second line, also unlisted, for personal calls.
While Maryland lawmakers may charge the state for phones in their homes used solely for government business, Mr. Oaks' system is unusual in that the number is unpublished and therefore unavailable to many residents of his district.
"I'm not going to justify why the phone number is unlisted," he said, expressing surprise that The Sun would be interested in such a matter. "Most of the people who want to get me know how to get me."
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said he could not comment on the appropriateness of the expense.
"Unlisted? Well, that's news to me. I'll have to look into it. Before I make any more comments, I will want to talk to Nat and check with the right people," said Mr. Taylor, a Democrat from Allegany County.
Mr. Oaks has had trouble with expenses in the past. He lost his seat in 1989 after being convicted of stealing more than $10,000 from his campaign fund by billing it for expenses for which he also charged the state. At Mr. Oaks' request, a Baltimore judge in 1990 struck the conviction from his record and replaced it with probation before judgment.
Speaker Taylor noted that it is not uncommon for legislators to use their homes as their legislative district offices, especially in rural areas.
Generally, however, lawmakers list those numbers in the phone book so that constituents can find them easily, said state Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Baltimore County Democrat and co-chairman of the legislature's joint ethics committee.
Told of Mr. Oaks' situation, Mr. Collins said, "I think it's bizarre, but I don't think it's unethical."
He added, however, that he thinks it is best for legislative numbers to be listed.
According to published guidelines for legislative expenses, "A member may not charge the basic rental for a home or business telephone [to the state]. A member may charge a telephone or telephone system used only for legislative business. . . ."
Campaign records filed last year by Mr. Oaks with the state election board show as his home number the same unlisted number he now says is used for legislative business.
Since returning to Annapolis in January, Mr. Oaks has served on the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee, which passed major ethics legislation this year.
Legislative sources say he is being considered for a seat on the Economic Matters Committee, where he served in the 1980s. The committee is viewed as powerful because it handles insurance, banking, business, labor and economic development issues.