ANNAPOLIS, SEPT. 24 -- Anne Arundel County executive candidate Robert R. Neall, who last week accused his Democratic rival of campaign finance irregularities, was forced to defend his own campaign spending practices today.
Neall, the Republican nominee, has reimbursed his campaign $6,045 he received for meals and other "field expenses." He also plans to donate to his campaign several pieces of office equipment that he had purchased and was leasing to his organization for $750 a month, said David Almy, Neall's campaign manager.
Neall's actions came in response to questions raised in Sunday's edition of the Annapolis Capital newspaper, Almy said. In a prepared statement, Neall denied having billed his campaign improperly, but said he decided to make the repayment and donations "to remove even the slightest question of doubt." The disclosures concerned five months of mileage, entertainment, telephone expenses and admissions to events that Neall charged to his campaign in June and a "lease-to-buy" arrangement the candidate set up to furnish his campaign with a computer, a printer, a facsimile machine and a cellular telephone. Neall planned to lease the equipment and then sell it to his campaign.
The controversy came less than a week after Neall's accusation that his Democratic opponent, County Council member Theodore J. Sophocleus, attempted to "launder" illegally obtained campaign funds, including falsely listing senior citizens who never made donations as contributors. Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli is investigating Neall's allegations.
The office equipment is listed on Neall's most recent campaign finance report as a $19,000 outstanding debt owed to Katlin Leasing, an unincorporated business he established this year to rent the machinery to his campaign.
According to Almy, the sum reflects both the $9,000 Neall planned to charge his campaign for using the equipment for a year and $10,000 he hoped to recover by selling the items, including another computer and printer he bought four years ago, to his campaign committee after the election. All of the charges are below fair market value, Almy said.
Almy said Neall purchased the office equipment for $12,000 in December, when his campaign had not raised enough money to make such purchases. Asked why Neall had not loaned his campaign the funds for the equipment instead of charging for both their use and purchase, Almy said that was a business decision made by the candidate.
"Is it fair to lend the campaign at no charge all that equipment for a period of a year? Viewing the whole thing in a business context, no sane businessman would lend that amount of equipment for free. That is the defense for it," Almy said.
Elizabeth Nelson, counsel to the state elections board, agreed that Neall's leasing arrangement does not violate any campaign laws. But she said, "the candidate shouldn't be in the position to make a profit from money that is lent to the campaign or money he has put out for something for the campaign."
The more than $6,000 that Neall charged to his campaign for various expenses also appears to be legal, according to Rebecca Babinec, supervisor of the state elections board. Babinec said state law allows candidates to be reimbursed for "any money spent in connection with a candidacy to promote that candidacy," including meals and mileage, although candidates tend to vary widely in deciding whether to seek reimbursement for such personal expenditures.