Sunday, September 17, 2006

Candidate pays himself for campaigning

This guy thinks he has a chance against Sensenbrenner.

As reported by Spivak and Bice

Candidate pays himself for campaigning

The last guy you'd expect liberal congressional candidate Bryan Kennedy to take his campaign cues from would be Alan Keyes, the onetime presidential candidate from the fringes of the Republican Party.

But records show that Kennedy paid himself a salary of $4,100 in July and again in August from his campaign - just as Keyes, the conservative extremist, did infamously during a failed U.S. Senate campaign in Maryland in 1992.

Kennedy, a long-shot Democrat running against House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, confirmed Friday that he made another $4,100 payment to himself from his campaign fund on Sept. 1 and will continue to do so each month through December.

Total projected campaign dollars he plans to pocket: $24,600.

Federal Election Commission spokesman Bob Biersack said that in 2002 his agency made it kosher for candidates to dip into their campaign funds. But the vast majority has avoided the practice out of fear of giving opponents ammunition.

"It's not typical by any stretch," Biersack said. "It's relatively unusual."

Kennedy is not the only one to have benefited from his campaign's fund-raising prowess. Since January 2005, Kennedy's team has paid $73,185 in salary and expenses to Democratic Consulting, a one-man shop run by Kennedy's buddy and ex-student Bill Elliott. That works out to 40% of the campaign's spending.

Elliott recently failed in his bid to win a seat in the state Assembly. He said Kennedy has been his only paying client during the past 1 1/2 years.

In a Friday interview, Kennedy defended using his contributors' generosity to put food on his table, suggesting that this is the only way a middle-class guy can run for federal office.

"I'm not sure I took it from Alan Keyes," Kennedy said. "I can't stand to listen to him talk for more than a minute."

Rather, Kennedy is taking a leave from his job as an assistant professor of Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. State records list his base salary at UWM at slightly more than $48,000, but he said with summer school and other teaching gigs, he typically collected from $55,000 to $60,000 annually in the past couple years.

After looking at their family budget, Kennedy said, he and his wife settled on the $4,100-per-month figure, roughly the same as his base UWM pay.

Under federal regs, a congressional candidate can use campaign funds to pay himself no more than what his salary was the year before he began running for office, said Biersack. Though it doesn't affect Kennedy, this amount is capped at the current pay for congressmen.

Kennedy used questions about his salary to toss a couple of salvos at Sensenbrenner, a kazillionaire from Menomonee Falls. Besides, Sensenbrenner - like all incumbents - gets paid year-round, whether he is sitting in a hearing or is on the campaign stump.

"Why are we paying Sensenbrenner a salary the whole month of August when he's out campaigning?" Kennedy asked.

Kennedy is using his contributors' cash for more than salaries. His team, which has raised about $200,000 since the beginning of last year and hopes to bring in a like amount before November, is planning a TV ad blitz this fall.

The campaign just dropped about $10,000 for a poll that showed Sensenbrenner has a 49% positive rating in the district and a 29% negative rating. Fako & Associates, a Democratic pollster, said Sensenbrenner's positives dropped nine points and that Kennedy was within striking distance of the incumbent. The poll, taken Aug. 28-30, had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 points.

The bad news: Despite being on the ballot against Sensenbrenner in 2004, Kennedy was known by only 31% in the suburban district.

The campaign quickly posted the poll results on the Daily Kos, the hugely popular Democratic blog that delights in taking shots at Sensenbrenner.

"We wanted to activate the netroots and get them giving to the campaign," Kennedy said.

With a little luck, he might collect enough to give himself a raise.

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