County executive candidate Paul T. Clark has itemized substantial loans to his campaign in reports filed with the state Board of Elections over the past 18 months, only to repay most of them almost immediately.
His adversaries say such money movements create a false impression of his campaign's strength to gain endorsements and more contributions.
Clark, a Democrat, replies he simply redirected the loans to interest-bearing accounts and remained committed to using the money in his campaign. He said he would bring that kind of money management to county government and insisted he was not trying to create any false impressions.
But Board of Elections officials say the candidate, who touts his credentials as a certified public accountant, is employing rare reporting techniques that are "very misleading."
"He's playing games," said Lee Daghlian, board spokesman. "The numbers do not reflect what's going on here."
The campaign of James P. Keane, Clark's rival in the Democratic Party primary, charges that Clark regularly has pumped funds into his campaign at reporting deadlines to make support appear stronger than it really is.
Clark is "effectively keeping two sets of books" by presenting a total fundraising figure that shrinks soon after the deadline, said Donald A. Van Every, Keane spokesman.
"He intends to show himself at a higher level of fundraising than he's really taking in," Van Every said. "Is this the way he will run his government?
"This is not inside baseball," he added. "It's a public issue."
Board records show a pattern of loans and loan repayments throughout the Clark candidacy. The reports for last July, for example, showed Clark loaned his campaign $120,000 the previous January, but the amount was repaid later the same month. The report for last January indicates that the previous July he had loaned his campaign $198,500, which was repaid later that month.
Last January, he loaned his campaign $222,500, which was repaid later the same month. In the latest filing, dated July 15, he reported loaning his campaign $332,500 and being repaid $232,500.
Clark said he regularly transfers his personal assets into accounts providing the best returns, especially in a time of a booming stock market.
"I do not enjoy letting funds sit idle," he said. "That's not how we accountants do things."
He said the $100,000 of personal money left in his account in the July report represents what he plans to spend in a primary campaign he expects to cost just under $1 million, though he added he wants to be flexible.
He also pointed to his 2004 Democratic primary for Congress in which he publicly committed $250,000 to the effort and came close in spending -- about $214,000. That, he said, demonstrates a history of spending funds he has promised.
"My funds are committed," he said.
While Clark maintains he should be judged at the end of the campaign when he says he will have fulfilled his promise to spend his own money, the Keane forces are turning the loans into an election issue.
Van Every compared Clark's money management to that of County Executive Joel A. Giambra, who has presided over a county fiscal crisis during his second term.
He said the Keane campaign's finances are open and transparent.
"We believe our filings show the kind of government Jim Keane will run and Paul Clark's show the kind he will run," Van Every said. "We think the contrast is clear."