Democrats say Ehrlich broke FCC rules in spot last year

Former governor discussed Arundel slots bid

February 05, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz |

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - who might be in a rematch against Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley this fall - violated "payola rules" during a segment last year on WBFF-Fox 45, the Maryland Democratic Party says in a complaint delivered Thursday to the Federal Communications Commission.

Ehrlich, a regular on the station's "Political Pulse" show, discussed Baltimore-based Cordish's bid for the Anne Arundel County slot-machine facility in an appearance April 3. But he did not disclose that his firm, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, had been hired by Cordish to build support for the company's license, the Democrats say.

At the time, Magna Entertainment Corp. was battling to stay in the slots running. The Canadian company had also applied for the license but failed to submit all of the required fees. The license was awarded in December to Cordish.

In the letter to the FCC, the Democrats quote the former governor as saying: "We have one applicant, Cordish obviously, that followed the law, that dotted their i's, crossed their t's, and Magna did not, which is why they are now the lone applicant in Anne Arundel County."

Ehrlich, the Democrats say, "was obligated to inform the station of the fact that he was being paid to promote the position of the Cordish Company and ... the station was obligated to disclose that fact to its viewers."

Since leaving Annapolis in 2007, Ehrlich - a longtime slots proponent - and several of his associates, including former communications director Paul Schurick, have been employed by Womble.

Jon Cordish told The Baltimore Sun in March that Schurick "and his Womble communications team" had been hired to help with community relations for the Arundel site, though Cordish noted that Ehrlich himself had not been hired.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell, also now at Womble, says the Democrats' claim "does not deserve the dignity of a response." He said the party frequently dispatches letters to Ehrlich and "anyone who will listen" pointing out what they see as wrongdoing.

"The Democratic Party is paid to feign outrage and to try to invent bogeymen," Fawell said, citing the FCC letter as an example of that. "The problem is, they're not very good at it. I'd encourage them to keep their training wheels on."

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