Clark's icy treats melt into debate
New Castle County Executive Paul Clark used $1,250 of his campaign funds to give Mr. Softee Ice Cream to county employees during a hot spell in August.
The "Ice Cream Days" on Aug. 24, Aug. 25 and Aug. 26 were held on county property during the employees' working hours. A Sept. 16 event, for county library employees, was held at a hotel. Clark used the county's email system to notify the employees about the events.
Delaware's Elections Commissioner, Elaine Manlove, said the expense apparently violated the state campaign-finance law. Campaign funds shouldn't be used for employee-appreciation events by elected officials, she said.
"I think he should reimburse his campaign fund and file an amended report," Manlove said. "Food is an allowable expense, but it has to be for a campaign event."
After defending the expense as a legitimate campaign expenditure last week, Clark said Monday he would reimburse his campaign.
County Attorney Gregg Wilson, a Clark appointee, said he doesn't think the event broke any county laws about holding campaign events on government property.
Clark first misrepresented where the money for the ice cream socials came from. In his Aug. 22 email to all county employees, Clark said, "These Ice Cream Days will be paid for personally by me; no county funds will be used."
In a statement Friday, however, Clark said, "I used campaign funds."
In the Friday interview, Clark said all he meant by stating that he paid for the ice cream personally was that county funds weren't used.
Clark, a Democrat, said the issue is much ado about nothing and blames the attention on the fact that he's running for another term in office later this year. He also noted that former County Executive Chris Coons held employee picnics with county money.
"It seems very strange to me that I could have done the same thing using taxpayer funds and that would have been fine, but someone says that using non-taxpayer funds is wrong," Clark said in the statement. "The silly political season seems to arrive earlier and earlier every two years. It's a shame that somebody is trying to turn my gesture of appreciation to our employees into a political football.
"But if the Department of Elections says it's a gray area, it's hardly worth arguing over, and I've simply reimbursed my campaign for the amount and am filing an amended report," Clark said in a statement Monday.
In a brief interview later Monday, Clark said the reimbursement hasn't technically taken place yet. He said he's looking into whether he can simply use part of the $31,200 he's already loaned his campaign to pay back his campaign fund.
Manlove said the mechanics of the reimbursement haven't been worked out yet. It's unclear, she said, whether Clark can use money he already loaned to his campaign.
John Flaherty, president of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, said the entire situation was avoidable. Clark could have simply used his own money, or even county money, for the events.
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