WASHINGTON -- As he preaches the politics of virtue, Alan Keyes is discovering the virtue of politics as a profession. In a '90s version of the American dream, he is making a living by running for president.
Though his candidacy has yet to catch on with most Republicans, the Baltimore radio talk-show host has wowed conservatives with fire-breathing speeches and ardent anti-abortion orations.
But in the process he is repeating a pattern that emerged in his unsuccessful 1992 Senate race in Maryland: a mingling of personal and campaign finances in apparent indifference to campaign ethics, if not the law.
Since announcing his candidacy in March, Mr. Keyes has continued to collect thousands of dollars in speaking fees. He has traveled to more than 30 states to spread his message and raise money for his campaign.
In the past six months, Mr. Keyes, 45, pocketed more than $35,000, plus expenses, in fees, honorariums and "love offerings" for his personal appearances before conservative groups and religious congregations, according to Arthur Rocker, his former finance director.
The campaign launched a bitter attack on Mr. Rocker on Friday, one day after Mr. Keyes was interviewed by The Sun about his finances, blaming the former aide for whatever irregularities might have occurred.
Among the questionable practices was Mr. Keyes' use of paid campaign staff to arrange personal speaking engagements. He also commuted to work at a radio station in a campaign-supplied limousine. Both actions may have violated Federal Election Commission rules against personal use of campaign funds.
In the interview, Mr. Keyes reacted indignantly when asked if his actions could be seen as an attempt to use his presidential campaign to enrich himself.
"I think all of these questions are stupid questions. People who run for office have to keep on living," he said. "Why are you insulting my intelligence with these stupid questions? . . . The distinction between the campaign and my personal life is an absurd distinction, because I've got no personal life and haven't had one for months."
'These stupid FEC rules'
The FEC approved new regulations in February to clarify its ban on the personal use of campaign funds by candidates. The rules require candidates to reimburse their treasuries whenever political contributions are used to pay personal living expenses.
Mr. Keyes, who makes clear his disdain for "these stupid FEC rules," has failed to file a financial disclosure report, despite repeated requests from the agency. He is the only Republican presidential candidate who has neither filed nor requested an extension. Mr. Keyes says he was "too busy to do it."
The payment of honorariums or speaking fees to a candidate is legal, but unusual. As a general practice, candidates give up activities such as speechmaking for pay, writing columns or conducting talk shows once they begin their campaigns.
Another Republican hopeful who makes his living that way, Patrick J. Buchanan, did just that, according to his campaign press secretary.
"He feels that he's campaigning now for votes, and that's his job and and his business," said spokesman Greg Mueller. "I don't think he would think it's correct to do that [accept speaking fees] now."
But Mr. Keyes is adamant about his right to continue earning a living. He has no plans to stop taking speaking fees, he says.
"Whether it's unusual or not unusual, there's nothing immoral about it," he said. "There's nothing unethical about it. There is nothing that is at all questionable about it."
The blurred lines
In fact, Mr. Keyes' efforts to wear two hats are causing problems for his campaign, as internal memos and interviews with present and former campaign officials make clear.
A June 28 letter from the campaign's accountant, George F. Lynch Jr., warns of "possible commingling of personal and campaign moneys . . . if the situation which has been reported is not remedied immediately, all of the other efforts to elect Alan Keyes for President could be in jeopardy."
A June 21 memo from the campaign's lawyer, C. Michael Tarone, urges the candidate to "erect a Chinese Wall between the run for office and your other life."
But that has not been the way the campaign has functioned.
Typical of the blurred lines was an appearance last month at the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Mr. Keyes, whose speech was nationally televised, was introduced, according to pastor John Hagee, as "a candidate for the office of the president of the United States."
Congregation members were invited by Dr. Hagee to make a contribution as they left the church. Mr. Keyes raised $7,200 in cash and checks, according to Mr. Rocker and another former campaign aide who asked not to be identified.
"Normally, what the churches try to do is stay out of politics"
because it could jeopardize their tax-exempt status, Mr. Rocker said. "What the minister will say, instead, is 'Let's give him a love offering.' "
Asked if the churchgoers are aware that their contributions are ,, going to him personally, and not to his campaign, Mr. Keyes says, "Yes, of course, they're aware."
Scheduling and limousines
The campaign lawyer's memo also warns Mr. Keyes against using the staff to schedule personal speaking engagements, a practice that appears to violate FEC rules.
But between early April and late June, an exploratory committee member who drew $1,400 a month from the campaign coffers was used exclusively to make arrangements for Mr. Keyes' personal appearances.
Mr. Keyes said that anyone who handled his personal speaking engagements "was paid out of the proceeds earned by those speeches."
But the former aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says that never happened. "I was supposed to be paid by Dr. Keyes for handling his personal travel. I never got paid that way. The campaign actually paid me," she said.
The aide lost the job when the exploratory committee was disbanded. She said she negotiated fees for Mr. Keyes' speaking engagements -- generally between $500 and $5,000 a speech -- and arranged first-class travel arrangements.
"We felt like him being a candidate, we could ask for that," she said, again suggesting a merging of political candidate and for-profit speaker.
Similarly, Mr. Keyes employed a Baltimore limousine service, which put a car and driver on 24-hour standby for his use. The campaign reported paying EMS Limousine Inc. a total of $5,100. The service was used, at least in part, to drive Mr. Keyes between his western Montgomery County home and the
WCBM-AM studio in Owings Mills where, since early 1994, he has conducted a daily call-in show.
Mr. Keyes' commuting expenses appear to fall under an FEC regulation that requires candidates to reimburse their campaigns for the personal use of a campaign vehicle. Mr. Keyes made no payment. He said he didn't think one was necessary, since his schedule sometimes required him to continue to a campaign-related event after finishing his show.
"If mistakes are made along the way, you can be absolutely sure there's no ill intention involved, and I'm not even sure mistakes were made because I don't get into that that deeply," Mr. Keyes said.
Controversy in '92
The problems within his presidential campaign echo the controversy that damaged his 1992 Senate effort, when he decided to pay himself an $8,500 monthly salary out of campaign funds. Mr. Keyes, who has an unpaid campaign debt of $44,579 from that race, said he needed the money to support his family.
The FEC itself has deadlocked over the salary practice, neither approving nor outlawing it, amid a continuing debate over whether campaign regulations have the effect of keeping anyone but wealthy and incumbent politicians from running for office.
Earlier this month, Mr. Keyes' presidential campaign director, George Uribe, acknowledged that it had been politically unwise for the candidate to accept a salary from the '92 campaign. "I can assure you, as his political adviser, that he won't take any money from this campaign," he said.
Mr. Keyes, though, says he might pay himself a salary later in this campaign. "I don't rule it out. I never have," he said.
As his campaign attracts growing national attention, some of those who were attracted to his candidacy have become disillusioned.
George Hutson, who quit this month as the campaign's Texas state chairman, said Mr. Keyes' candidacy "is supposed to be a cut above. It's not a cut above. It's a grade below."
Mr. Keyes, he said, is "more interested in making a speech and collecting a fee and then going home."
Among conservative leaders sympathetic to his message of moral revival, there is concern that Mr. Keyes may be undermining his cause.
"I think it's unfortunate because he has a very strong moral message and . . . one has to be consistent with one's moral message," said Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation. "I just think that the public takes a dim view of this."
11,000 calls in 2 days
Mr. Keyes, who ranked last in the field of nine GOP candidates in the latest CNN/Time poll, says he is making a financial sacrifice by running for president.
But the speaking fees he is earning are, in part, an outgrowth of his campaign, as appearances on CNN, C-SPAN and talk radio programs bring his rhetorical talents to a wider audience. A rebroadcast of a Keyes speech in February on the syndicated radio program "Focus on the Family," which airs on more than 1,500 stations, generated a heavy response, more than 11,000 phone calls in two days.
That exposure could translate into marketability -- and potentially higher fees -- on the lecture circuit once the campaign ends. Mr. Keyes, who declines to discuss what he is charging now, says he got between $5,000 and $10,000 per speech before his presidential run.
It was his speaking abilities that first brought Mr. Keyes to the attention of Mr. Rocker, a political fund-raising specialist from Atlanta, who was working last year for John Knox, a Republican gubernatorial hopeful in Georgia.
Mr. Keyes made three appearances last year endorsing Mr. Knox. He charged the campaign a total of $5,000, plus zTC expenses, for his services. Visiting celebrities usually are reimbursed only for their expenses, if that.
"His wife called, and she wanted to make sure we'd send Alan the money. She said, 'This is the way that Alan makes a living. He has to get paid,' " Mr. Rocker recalled.
Last fall, after Mr. Knox had been defeated, Mr. Rocker and another former Knox campaign official drove to Nashville, Tenn., where Mr. Keyes was appearing that day, to urge him to run for president.
Mr. Keyes recalls, "My reaction was, 'Excuse me? This doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I just got through losing two Senate races and you're coming and asking me to run for president?' "
But within weeks, Mr. Keyes had authorized an exploratory committee, which opened in Atlanta in January. Mr. Rocker ran ** the effort as finance director.
After helping raise more than $300,000 during the first six months of the year, Mr. Rocker left the campaign, saying he was "just sick of him."
Asked about Mr. Rocker at the start of Thursday's interview, Mr. Keyes said he was not unhappy with his former aide's performance. "Art would still be with the campaign if he wanted to be. It was his choice," he said.
But the next day, the campaign distributed a statement from press secretary Bill Kling that accused Mr. Rocker of being the source of "serious, still-unresolved discrepancies in the finances" the exploratory committee.
"Mr. Rocker apparently was unable to cope with the stress of a presidential campaign," said the statement, which also said that Mr. Rocker had resigned after being given an ultimatum by Mr. Keyes.
Mr. Rocker denied the allegations and said that he was unaware of any discrepancies.