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Burton Aide on Federal, Campaign Pay

Burton talks to reporters in May. (AP)

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Key Player: Dan Burton

On the Web
Salon Magazine Story
By Juliet Eilperin and Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 23, 1998; Page A01

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) has approved nearly $500,000 in payments and salary to his campaign manager, a part-time clown, who appeared simultaneously on his political and official House payrolls.

Such dual employment can be problematic, which prompted the House ethics committee to recommend earlier this year that staffers doing both government and campaign work carefully document their time. It is against the law for lawmakers to use their office budgets to subsidize their campaigns, or vice versa, and most Capitol Hill staffers take time off to work on their bosses' campaigns.

In Burton's case, the dual payments to Claudia Keller, mostly over the last nine years, were often made during the same periods of time, according to federal records. Last year, for example, Keller received almost $22,000 for working at Burton's Indianapolis and Greenwood district offices an average of two days a week, along with nearly $44,000 for her full-time campaign job.

The Burton campaign has also paid Keller $250 a month to rent office space in her Lawrence, Ind., home, which is outside Burton's congressional district, by declaring it the campaign headquarters. And Keller has received more than $50,000 in campaign-related expenses, including payments for appearances by her "Buttons & Bows" clown service.

Burton has been one of the sharpest congressional critics of President Clinton's campaign financial practices. His own expenditures, first reported in the Indianapolis Star and expanded upon yesterday in the online magazine Salon, highlight a pattern of campaign spending that has raised concerns among congressional watchdog groups.

Burton spokesman John Williams did not dispute the expenditures, but described Keller's work as a legitimate part of the congressman's campaign and official efforts. He said Keller was careful to keep both sets of activities separate. "Under no circumstances did we ever mix campaign and district office work," he said.

"Claudia is a clown, apparently," Williams added. "She was paid for by the campaign to come to our Fourth of July parades and other events, to hand out fire hats to the kids, and bumper stickers, and stuff like that."

Keller is a former medical technician who has also served as a television "spokesmodel" for a car dealer. She has worked for Burton since 1981 and recently moved to the Washington area to serve as the congressman's full-time scheduler.

Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, said that "it's extremely unusual for people to hold two posts simultaneously and draw two paychecks."

Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, said the dual roles raised the question of "whether Keller's receiving a fair day's pay for a fair day's work."

But Williams said that Keller, along with her campaign duties, "worked in the district office, which is not an uncommon arrangement. She handled all the campaign fund-raising. She did constituent work -- answering letters, special events, helped people to get visas."

Keller did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Keller is not the only member of her family to benefit from Burton's political and governmental activities. According to federal records, his campaign has made at least $1,500 in payments to Keller's daughter, Sandy, and $1,000 to her ex-husband William Fair. In addition, Williams confirmed that Keller's sister, Elizabeth, also works in the congressman's district office while also doing political work for Burton; Elizabeth Keller has received at least $3,200 in salary and other disbursements this year from Burton's campaign, records show. The campaign also paid more than $7,000 to Claudia Keller's aunt, Doris Freeland.

According to the Indianpolis Star, most of the nearly half-million dollars has been paid to Keller since 1990. She has received $157,664 for House work from 1990 through last year. Keller has also been paid $265,479 by the Burton campaign since 1981, plus more than $50,000 for campaign-related expenses. The Star said Burton's office had to be "pressed over a period of weeks" to describe Keller's congressional duties.

In a statement yesterday, Burton's office attacked the credibility of one of the news outlets publicizing Burton's activities, as well as the author. The statement called Salon "well known for its close ties to the White House" and "the last refuge for left-wing reporters who want to attack conservative politicians."

The author of the Salon article is freelancer Russ Baker, who had worked on an earlier version of the story for Vanity Fair. In September, Burton sought to preempt that article by announcing that he had fathered a 15-year-old son out of wedlock. The congressman said the White House might be linked to the Vanity Fair effort, which both the administration and the magazine denied.

Baker said yesterday that his reporting "rests on the merits of the story itself."

Resource Director Margot Williams contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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