Burke's Law

Is there a financial adviser in the house?

In another questionable campaign expense, Burke shelled out $850 per month, from October 1993 to March 1994, to rent a 1200-square-foot North Miami apartment he says functioned as a campaign office. Former Burke commission staffer and campaign worker Doris Dickens notes that only one of the apartment's two bedrooms contained office equipment, including desks and computer gear. The other bedroom was empty, and the living room contained only a sofa and television, says Dickens. Burke explains that he selected the location with Dickens in mind: Because she would be doing her work at night after her regular business hours on his commission staff, and because she had a friend who lived nearby, Dickens would be able to spend the night at the friend's house rather than drive to her home in Broward. As for the size of the unit, Burke recalls that there were no one-bedroom apartments available in the complex when he opened the office. (Burke says he has stopped using the apartment.)

Murky? Yes. And so is the rental's legality. North Miami's zoning code administrator, Ron Russo, says the city rarely allows residential properties to be used primarily for commercial purposes, though he's not sure whether a political campaign office would be considered a commercial use. But Russo says that if indeed Burke used the apartment primarily as a campaign office, the commissioner probably should have had an occupational license.

"The person who indicated he'd take care of that for me was Howard Premer, the vice mayor of North Miami," Burke claims. "He said he would look into seeing what he could do to make sure I got the occupational license." (Premer says he never spoke with Burke about the campaign office or, for that matter, its legality.) The commissioner says he temporarily sidestepped the knotty zoning issues by having Dickens rent the apartment under her own name and by considering it primarily a residence. But Dickens says she never slept in the apartment.

In another irregular campaign expenditure, Burke spent $2769 to buy a car he says he used exclusively for campaigning. "I've seen [campaign] reports where people have actually gone out and bought a suit," comments Gisela Salas, Dade's assistant supervisor of elections, who's responsible for scrutinizing campaign treasurer reports. "I don't know if I've ever seen a car purchased by another candidate, but I wouldn't say it hasn't happened." The commissioner says at least he's not using a county automobile to campaign, insinuating that such is the practice of other incumbent politicians.

"The one thing that's good about the election law is that it leaves broad discretion to the candidate as to what expenses they're going to make," Burke remarks without a trace of irony.

But this same attitude got Burke into trouble a decade ago when the state elections commission fined him $3600 for numerous violations of campaign financing laws. A member of the state House of Representatives from 1982 to 1992, Burke was penalized for failing to file complete reports as well as for using 1982 campaign funds to make a car payment and to purchase a legislative license plate.

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