The state prosecutor vowed yesterday to shut down an effort by the state Democratic Party to pay workers on Election Day to help get out the vote.
A variety of fliers have been distributed in Prince George's County and Baltimore offering to pay Election Day workers $75 or $110 cash to work Tuesday.
Bruce L. Marcus, an attorney for the state Democratic Party, said last night that the party had distributed fliers at a Kathleen Kennedy Townsend rally at Bowie State University on Thursday offering $75 to do voter canvassing.
He said he does not know who is distributing fliers in the city, one of which reads: "Work for Democracy!!! Election workers needed. $110 Cash." No organization is listed on this flier.
When The Sun called a phone number on the Bowie State flier, the person who answered said they were rounding up workers for gubernatorial candidate Townsend.
But Maryland forbids paying Election Day workers either to stand at the polls or to canvass neighborhoods for voters, several state officials said.
State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said he plans to prosecute anyone who distributes or receives money in violation of election laws barring the use of so-called walking-around money.
"We are calling them and telling them they can't do it, and if they do it, they will be prosecuted," Montanarelli said. "You can't pay workers. If they are volunteers, that is different."
Montanarelli became involved after Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign notified him yesterday that the fliers were appearing at locations throughout the state - one was discovered in a phone booth on North Avenue.
Townsend campaign spokesman Peter Hamm seconded Marcus. "This campaign is not paying anybody to work on Election Day. Period," Hamm said, declining to comment further.
Marcus believes the party has done nothing wrong. He said it was planning to pay workers to get out the vote for Democratic congressional candidates - not state or local candidates - so he argued that state election laws do not apply. The flier did not mention any candidate by name. But Marcus added that Democratic Party officials would meet with state prosecutors to figure out whether they can legally proceed with their plans.
"The bottom line is we are going to be talking to [prosecutors] over the weekend," Marcus said. "It is our intention to satisfy everybody so that we are doing this legal under federal and state law, and if there is a dispute, we will resolve it."
Linda H. Lamone, chief of the State Board of Elections, said last night that she believes state law also oversees federal races.
"I don't think there is any federal law at all dealing with this and this is a Maryland election and Maryland law applies to the conduct of Maryland elections," Lamone said.
Ehrlich's campaign said that even if Marcus is technically correct - which it doubts - the Democratic Party is fudging laws that have been on the books for years governing Election Day activities.
"It sounds as though what they are saying is, folks who work for federal candidates can break state law," said Del. Joseph M. Getty, Ehrlich's political director and a lawyer.
Yesterday, Montanarelli called the number listed on the flier distributed at the Townsend rally.
"I asked if they intended to pay $75," Montanarelli said. "They said, `Yes.' I said, `You can't do that, and if you have any questions, here is my name and number and call me.'"
When a Sun reporter called the same number, the person said the campaign needed workers to canvass neighborhoods in Prince George's County on Election Day. At the Townsend rally, an announcement was made over the loudspeaker saying they needed 1,000 workers.
State election law says Election Day workers can be paid only if they are transporting voters to the polls or if they need reimbursement for food or telephone calls made to voters. It is not known who distributed the fliers found in Baltimore offering to pay $110.
One of the fliers instructs interested people to go to a five-hour "training day" tomorrow in the parking lot of Western High School.
Montanarelli said yesterday that prosecutors would go to training to shut it down. If it continued, Montanarelli said, organizers and people in attendance could be charged with a misdemeanor.
Prosecutions have been rare, but Montanarelli pledged to step up enforcement. "We are going to try to prohibit it this year rather than just go after them after" the election, he said.
On Thursday, the Montgomery Gazette reported that Progressive Maryland, a liberal advocacy group, had planned to hire 400 Election Day workers for Townsend but backed away when organizers found out it was illegal.
Walking-around money - money paid to workers or political organizations on Election Day - was once a staple of Maryland politics, especially in the city, but was outlawed in the late 1970s. Although many people assume the tactic is still used, it rarely comes to public light.
With polls showing a tight race, Townsend and Ehrlich are developing large-scale get-out-the-vote operations.
Paul E. Schurick, an Ehrlich spokesman, said their campaign has recruited volunteers to work at 1,700 polling sites. In the city, where it is harder to find Republican volunteers, the campaign plans to use off-duty Baltimore police officers to man the polls.
Sun staff writer Sarah Koenig contributed to this article.