Ehrlich Urged to Return Abramoff Funds
Wednesday, January 4, 2006
The Maryland Democratic Party called on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday to follow the lead of some congressional Republicans and give back the $16,000 in campaign contributions he has received from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his wife.
Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to three criminal counts in a federal corruption investigation yesterday, gave the maximum contribution, $4,000, to Ehrlich's 2002 campaign for governor and again to the Republican governor's 2006 reelection bid. His wife, Pam, contributed equal amounts.
As national GOP leaders sought to distance themselves from the Abramoff scandal, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) announced yesterday that he would donate to charity any contributions from the lobbyist and his associates.
Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor's office, said he could not discuss what Ehrlich would do because it pertains to campaign accounts. Ehrlich could not be reached, and several of his top aides did not return calls for comment late yesterday.
State Democratic Party officials said Ehrlich was ethically bound to rid himself of the contributions. "It's Ehrlich's responsibility to return the tainted money to his friend, Jack Abramoff," said Derek Walker, acting executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. "It's his only ethical option."
Democratic officials also drew attention to a portion of the charging documents filed when Abramoff pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion. Prominently mentioned is a firm chartered by Ehrlich's deputy chief of staff, Edward B. Miller.
For several months in 2003, Miller was the registered agent for GrassRoots Interactive in Silver Spring before turning it over to a lobbying associate of Abramoff's. The charging documents indicate that Abramoff established the company and then encouraged many of his clients to use its public relations and other services. Abramoff would then cause the firm to "charge prices that incorporated huge profit margins for the purpose of generating funds and concealing kickbacks" that accrued to Abramoff, according to the documents.
Ehrlich has said Miller, who received a subpoena from a federal grand jury last summer, has cooperated with federal investigators. Miller's lawyer has said previously that his client did nothing illegal.
Abramoff, who lives in Maryland, also donated to the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee; the Republican State Central Committee of Maryland; the Republican Legislators Committee, Maryland political action committee; and state Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick) in the 2002 election cycle, according to state Board of Elections records.
Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.