Democrats: Ehrlich radio show amounts to campaign gift

Attorney general asked to review

April 20, 2010|By Annie Linskey, Sun Reporter

The state's attorney general's office will review whether former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s weekly radio show should be considered an in-kind campaign donation, a spokeswoman said.

The State Board of Elections requested an opinion Tuesday after Maryland's Democratic Party accused Ehrlich of breaking campaign finance rules by continuing to host a WBAL talk show after announcing his candidacy for governor. The airtime should be viewed as a campaign donation from station owner Hearst Radio, according to a letter from the party.

"This pattern of behavior is one of skirting the rules and pure common sense," said Susan Turnbull, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. "He is accepting thousands of dollars in airtime." State rules limit an individual's donations to $4,000 per candidate per four-year election cycle.

Raquel Guillory, a spokesman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a Democrat, confirmed that the office would examine whether the show constitutes a campaign violation.

Ehrlich, a Republican, announced this month that he will challenge incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley in November. He will end the radio show before he files state candidacy papers in July because Ehrlich "has decided that is the appropriate time to do it," said his spokesman, Andy Barth.

Barth would not say when Ehrlich will file his candidacy papers, or whether the campaign plans to report any of the airtime on its next filing. "The campaign finance report will speak for itself," Barth said.

The former governor co-hosts the show on Saturday mornings with his wife, Kendel. It reaches about 50,000 people 18 years and over, said Mark S. Miller, WBAL Radio's news director.

Brian Murphy, who is mounting a primary challenge against Ehrlich, did not respond to a request for comment.

The ad rates for the radio show vary by season, said Ed Kiernan, the vice president and general manager of the station. They can be anywhere from $150 to $300 for a 60-second spot. Kiernan said prices are highest from mid-March to mid-June.

"We have very high-priced, high-quality FCC lawyers," Kiernan said. "We are not doing anything that is against the law."

Miller said Ehrlich's show would have to end when his candidacy is certified by the State Board of Elections; the latest date for that would be early July. "He would have to either come off the air or we would have to offer equal time to the other candidates," he said, noting that equal time could be unwieldy if there is a field that includes a number of fringe contenders.

Miller also noted that O'Malley regularly appeared on the twice-monthly "Ask the Mayor" show in 2006 when he was Baltimore's top elected official and also running for governor. He did not report that time as an in-kind donation, campaign finance reports show.

Turnbull drew a distinction between O'Malley's previous show and Ehrlich's current program, arguing that O'Malley was providing factual information related to his job as mayor while Ehrlich provides political commentary to promote his candidacy.

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