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Campaign Beat

The Count: Keiffer Mitchell Jr.

By Van Smith | Posted 8/15/2007

Just like every other Maryland politician, City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell Jr. (D-11th District) this week had to report his latest campaign-finance data, covering financial activity since Jan. 17, to the state Board of Elections. Mitchell Jr.'s new numbers are more eagerly awaited than most because on Aug. 2 his father resigned in controversy as his campaign treasurer. Mitchell Jr., who is one of seven Democratic challengers taking on Mayor Sheila Dixon, encouraged Dr. Keiffer J. Mitchell Sr. to leave the post, citing as cause $40,000 in questionable expenditures, now repaid, that his father transacted as the man legally responsible for the campaign's books. The new report is expected to contain all the details that Mitchell Jr. thus far has not disclosed, which may yet make for interesting analysis, especially since his father's friends--attorneys Larry Gibson and William Murphy--deny the spending was improper. Mitchell Sr. thus far has remained silent.

As the latest data gets crunched, already available for scrutiny are the ins and outs of Mitchell Jr.'s past campaigns. Friends of Keiffer Jackson Mitchell Jr.'s records from 1999 on have been online at the state elections web site since January, showing how it operated to keep him in the council seat he is now giving up to run for mayor. Signs of sloppy accounting abound, not surprisingly, given Mitchell Sr.'s recent fate. This is not unique. Last week, for instance, the Count reported Dixon's books are "a bit hazy," too, with a bevy of voided checks and unattributed donations (The Count, Aug. 8). The numbers reported by candidates' treasurers are what they are, and the only guarantees of accuracy are the treasurers' signatures at the bottom. Nonetheless, how Mitchell Jr.'s historic finances break down gives some measure of past electoral efforts that have made him competitive citywide.

The Mitchell Jr. campaign raised $269,150.04 since 1999, and entered 2007 with a bank balance of $32,546.89. Those are midget-league numbers compared to Dixon's minor-league total--$1,125,216.01 raised, with a $284,383.79 balance--which pales next to the $1,863,092.17 then-mayor (now governor) Martin O'Malley raised for an easy re-election in 2003. Should Mitchell Jr.'s new balance rise by an order of magnitude, he'd be showing momentum coming into the shank of the election season, especially given the low level of funding with which he started.

Over the long term, Mitchell Jr.'s top business donor since 1999 is David K. Gildea, who gave $6,025, including $600 from his firm. Gildea is a lawyer for developers whose other practice areas include "election, campaign, and political law," according to his online profile, expertise that could help guide the campaign's recent travails with Mitchell Sr. Charles Theatre property owner Bowling Inc., its Shecter family principals, and a Shecter development partner, Tower Hill Development, together gave $5,500 in business donations ("The Block," Stage, Dec. 21, 2005). Developer Richard W. Naing's RWN Development Group, which recently announced a deal with the city over the Waxter Center and the old Brexton apartment building, came in third among Mitchell Jr.'s biggest business donors, with $2,750.

Individuals backing Mitchell Jr. contributed nearly half of the campaign's total take, and some of them gave a lot. Vending-machine company owner John Vontran was worth $1,500 to Mitchell Jr.'s campaign, plus another $1,000 from other Vontran family members and $500 from his company Amusement Vending ("Game Sharks," Mobtown Beat, Mar. 9, 2005). Lawyer/developer/Orioles owner Peter Angelos chipped in $2,000, plus another $1,000 from one of his companies, Artemis Texas LLC, while Angelos' former real-estate chief, Baltimore County Judicial Nominating Commission Chairman Wayne Gioioso Jr., was good for another $1,950 ("The Last Tycoon," Feature, Aug. 16, 2000). Doctors helped, too: $2,200 from James Corkum, a gastroenterologist at Good Samaritan Hospital, and $1,700 came from University Specialty Hospital's James Flynn and his wife.

O'Malley, who recently endorsed Dixon in the mayor's race, has graced Mitchell Jr. with $6,250 from Friends of Martin O'Malley over the years, while Dixon got $6,000. Another major newly announced Dixon backer, Kweisi Mfume, is down for $1,000. (He has donated $,3000 to Dixon over the years.) Congressmen Elijah Cummings ($1,250) and Al Wynn ($1,000), meanwhile, loom large as politicians who have funded Mitchell Jr.

The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police has already endorsed Mitchell Jr., which is understandable, given the $4,875 that police unions have invested in him since 1999. The city firefighters and officers unions have endorsed him, too, and also have been good to Mitchell Jr., with $3,275. The Building Unions Individual Labor Donations PAC came on strong with $4,250, while another $3,250 was from the International Union of Operating Engineers local ("Labor Shortage," Quick and Dirty, Oct. 25, 2006). PACs representing realtors ($4,600) and bankers ($5,850) were also important Mitchell Jr. contributors.

Mitchell Jr.'s campaign records have no unattributed donors, like Dixon's do, but on the spending side the books were kept enigmatically. For example, Mitchell's campaign counted as "cash" 68 expenses totaling $23,747.60, 10 percent of the total amount the campaign has spent since 1999. Is this unusual? Well, yes, given that the amount is 15 percent of all expenses accounted for as "cash" by all Maryland political committees since 1999. The only other candidates in the mayor's race who have gone the "cash" route are Dixon and Frank M. Conaway Sr., who each counted a total of about $200 as cash expenditures on a couple of occasions.

Like Dixon's spending records, Mitchell Jr.'s are rife with voided checks: 31 of them, compared to Dixon's 25. This is not so unusual, since the aggregate amount of checks voided by all Maryland campaign committees amounts to more than 3,000, yet it suggests uncertainty in managing accounts, as does, in Mitchell Jr.'s case, $2,396.19 in bank fees and charges. But, hey, mistakes happen; the Count, for instance, has reported in each of the last three weeks' articles that there are nine Democratic mayoral candidates, when in fact there have been eight ever since Desiree Dodson withdrew back in March. (Sorry about that.)

Despite the creative-accounting fog, the top-earning payees of the Mitchell Jr. campaign are easy to spot. First and foremost with $18,807.04 is the Mellinger Group, an Annapolis-based fundraiser who also handles Congressman Wynn's campaigns. Next up is $12,398.73 to the Strategy Group of Chicago, Ill., a direct-mailer whose other clients include Barack Obama, O'Malley, and former Montgomery County executive and gubernatorial candidate Doug Duncan. Mitchell Jr. campaign aide Jason Williams made $10,316.69, while the Lutherville firm of Barb Clapp Advertising and Marketing, with $8,862.93, is the next highest. Many visits to Service Photo ($22,942.95), Coopers Camera Mart ($3,807.96), and Ritz Camera Center ($14,937.91) added up to a lot in expenses, while Apple Press ($11,869.65), H&W Printing ($5,413.28), and J.H. Furst Printing ($5,142.90) earned handsome sums.

Mitchell Jr. has been generous to other politicians, doling out a total of $18,020. To O'Malley went the most: $7,000. The Maryland Democratic Party received $3,250, while ex-mayor/ex-governor William Donald Schaefer's failed campaign last year to keep his position as state comptroller got $1,250.

Last year's victor in the Maryland Attorney General's race, Doug Gansler, was helped out with $2,760 of Mitchell Jr.'s money. The records of these five payments, though, are convoluted. They were actually made to two individuals: Karl Brown, whose listed address is the Roland Park Apartments, and Nannette Mitchell. Nothing more could be learned about Brown, but Nannette Mitchell is the candidate's mother and Mitchell Sr.'s wife. This elaborate accounting is all the more intriguing because the money's ultimate destination--Friends of Doug Gansler--was noted only in the footnotes of Mitchell Jr.'s campaign records, and the transactions do not show up at all in Gansler's records.

With the past finances of all the Democratic mayoral primary candidates now fully scrutinized, the Count soon will turn its attention to the ongoing flood of data being uploaded to the Board of Elections web site. That promises to be a daunting task, though an informative one for those inclined to follow the money.

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The Count: Sheila Dixon in Campaign Beat 8/8/2007

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