Group says officials hindering request

Democratic committee wants records on Steele

July 01, 2005|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

A national Democratic group seeking background information on Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele as he considers a run for U.S. Senate is accusing the Ehrlich administration of hindering a legal request for information.

A worker with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee filed three public information requests with state agencies last month, seeking records of meetings, testimony and travel by Steele, including information about trips to Paris, Barbados, South Africa and Ghana in 2003 and 2004.

This week, Jervis S. Finney, counsel to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., responded with a letter that charged the senatorial committee with seeking information for "partisan political purposes." The requests "may well constitute an abuse of legal process, perhaps a disgrace on the citizens of Maryland," he wrote.

Citing a section of state law, the Democratic committee said Finney "is forbidden to take the identity or organizational affiliation of the applicant into consideration."

Finney said he would compile an estimate of the costs needed to fulfill the request, and seek payment.

He has made similar accusations in responding to public records requests from The Sun.

Officials at the senatorial committee were taken aback. They said they regularly make records requests in other states and have them filled promptly.

Steele, a Republican, has formed an exploratory committee for a possible run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat.

"There's only one possible reason why Governor Ehrlich would stonewall this routine request: to cover something up on behalf of Michael Steele," said Phil Singer, communications director of the senatorial committee. "What is Michael Steele hiding?"

In an interview yesterday, Finney denied that the administration was withholding information.

"There was no stonewalling at all, particularly not by the governor and not by the lieutenant governor," Finney said.

"The governor and the lieutenant governor, as in every prior instance, have directed full compliance with the [public information act], and it will be honored," he said.

Maryland law requires that requests for information be filled within 30 days.

Sun staff writer Jennifer Skalka contributed to this article.

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