Ehrlich lists 18 golf tournaments, but not partners

Governor continues to invoke privacy in possible ethics issue

September 03, 2005|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has released records showing he played in 18 charity golf tournaments since 2003, but he will not disclose his partners in those matches or the dates and partners for numerous other private games, according to the governor's office.

"Private outings with friends are just that -- private -- and will remain so," said the governor's communications director, Paul E. Schurick, in a letter to the campaign finance watchdog group Common Cause Maryland.

The letter was dated Aug. 28 and was released by the group yesterday.

Common Cause had asked Ehrlich, a Republican, to provide a list of golf partners after misdemeanor ethics charges were filed last month against Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.

Taft, also a Republican, pleaded no contest and was convicted of charges that he failed to disclose accepting greens fees as gifts.

Common Cause Maryland Executive Director James Browning said the public has a right to know whom Ehrlich, an avid golfer, is spending time with during games. Golf matches can last four hours or more and offer a chance for private conversations and camaraderie, the group points out.

"This is a golden opportunity for his donors, for lobbyists and others to get quality time with him, in private -- no record of the meeting," Browning said. "We don't know who is out there with him, and until we do, the question is going to hang in the air: Is the golf course a substitute for his office?"

Schurick denied in the letter that such access exists.

"The governor is competitive on the golf course, continually working on his game, but still enjoying the friendship of his playing partners," Schurick wrote.

"Further, unlike some golfers, the governor does not use a round of golf to `network,' `conduct business' or `as an office in the rough,'" he wrote.

Ehrlich's fondness for golf has been the focus of media attention.

After taking office, he became the first Maryland governor in years to take advantage of a membership extended to the state's chief executive at the pricey Caves Valley Golf Club in Baltimore County, where memberships cost up to $125,000.

The state ethics commission ruled Ehrlich could use the membership because it is offered to anyone who holds the office, not to him personally.

Radio and television host and Washington Post sport columnist Tony Kornheiser has talked on the air about playing with Ehrlich and University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams. Ehrlich is a skilled and methodical player, Kornheiser said.

Ehrlich's office says the governor pays for golf games with personal funds, so does not need to report them as gifts on annual financial disclosure forms on record with the State Ethics Commission.

The governor's office has not provided receipts or other documentation showing that Ehrlich has paid for golf.

The list of charity tournaments released this week showed that Ehrlich played in seven events in 2003, seven in 2004 and four this year.

This year's tournaments included the McDonald's LPGA Championship Pro-Am at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace on June 7, followed the next day by the PGA Booz Allen Classic Pro-Am at Congressional Country Club in Montgomery County.

He has played at the Frederick Hospice Golf Tournament at the Holly Hills Country Club for three consecutive years. Schurick said he was disclosing those because the governor was acting "as an honorary host representing the state."

Josh White, political director for the Maryland Democratic Party, said the charity tournaments are just a fraction of Ehrlich's golf time. He called on the governor to provide a full accounting of his play.

"The governor's business is the state's business," White said. "The governor must think the people of Maryland are naive to think that this many rounds of golf are not subject to question... It's a lot of time away from the office. What does Ehrlich have to hide?"

Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Maryland, called the criticism "ridiculous games being played by the Democrats." Ehrlich has no more need to disclose his private affairs than do the General Assembly's officers, she said.

"Tell me who Speaker [Michael E.] Busch goes to basketball games with, or who Senate President [Thomas V. Mike] Miller has dinner with," she said.

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