GOP club's ads questioned

Three endorsements placed by unregistered group are probed

Maryland Votes 2006

September 17, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,sun reporter

The state prosecutor's office and state board of elections are investigating political advertisements sponsored by a local Republican club that is not registered with the state as an official political action committee.

The ads ran in several Carroll County publications the week before the primary election.

Scott Hollenbeck, president of the unregistered Carroll County Republican Club and a former member of the Carroll GOP Central Committee, is listed as the sponsor of the full-page ads that ran in the Westminster Eagle, the Eldersburg Eagle and on a local conservative Web site that published its first print edition on Sept. 6.

The ads endorsed four GOP commissioner candidates - Michael D. Zimmer, Douglas E. Myers, Mary Kowalski and Dave Greenwalt. The ads also called for a "clean sweep" of the three incumbent commissioners, Julia Walsh Gouge, Dean L. Minnich and Perry L. Jones Jr. Paid campaign ads that can't be traced to a registered party could violate election laws, said Jared DeMarinis, director of the state board of elections' campaign finance division.

"If you engage in campaign finance activity, which we've defined as raising and spending monies for an election, you have to form a campaign finance entity," DeMarinis said. "The standard threshold to be registered with the state board of elections ... is if two or more people engage in campaign finance."

A full-page ad that cost $1,875 in the print version of the Carroll Standard, the first such edition of the conservative Web site, was delivered free to 63,000 homes, according to its publisher Marcel J. van Rossum.

The Carroll County Board of Elections sent one of the advertisements to DeMarinis, who said he forwarded it to the Office of the State Prosecutor.

Robert A. Rohrbaugh, the chief state prosecutor, wouldn't comment on the case.

Minnich also wrote a letter of complaint to Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, which the prosecutor received.

In the letter, Minnich asked if "there is some organized illegality that has taken place that benefits certain individuals at the expense of the electorate."

Minnich said last week of the Carroll County Republican Club ads, "What were the sources of money? Does it add up when you take a look at the expense reports of the candidates? And if it doesn't add up, why?"

Hollenbeck, of Westminster, could not be reached for comment.

Zimmer, a conservative candidate endorsed in the Carroll County Republican Club ads, placed third among GOP candidates in Tuesday's primary. Zimmer's political ads also were featured on the Carroll Standard's Web site.

Van Rossum said he did not solicit any of the club's ads for his publication.

"The Eagle ran the same ads we did and more," he said. "It was probably a mistake on my part, but they [ads] are the authority of the club."

An unsuccessful commissioner candidate, C. Eric Bouchat, has filed a defamation lawsuit against van Rossum for printing a statement about Bouchat's criminal record in the Carroll Standard.

"He was convicted of second-degree assault on his wife," van Rossum said. "I have no doubt it will hold up in court."

The Carroll Standard also dismissed South Carroll Del. Susan W. Krebs as "the incumbent 9B liberal [who] has literally no core Republican support."

Krebs narrowly defeated Larry Helminiak in the GOP primary for the House seat.

Krebs pledged to get to the bottom of what she called the "lies and misinformation" printed in the Carroll County Republican Club ads.

"It was so over the top and so slanderous, I really believed people would see through it," Krebs said. "This isn't just normal political rhetoric. No one can track where the money comes from. ... I'm surprised that people in South Carroll fell for it."

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