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State GOP Cries Foul Over Maryland Fund Ads

By John Wagner and Ann E. Marimow
Friday, October 20, 2006

An independent group funded by Democratic and Democratic-leaning interest groups has spent close to $1 million on television and radio ads comparing Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to President Bush , according to a report made public yesterday.

The Maryland Fund, a so-called 527 group, reported receiving $600,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; $290,000 from the Democratic Governors Association; $160,000 from the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association; and $33,000 from the Maryland State Teachers Association.

The group's ads have sought to link Ehrlich, the state's first Republican governor in a generation, to the policies of Bush, whose popularity lags behind Ehrlich's in Maryland. The not-so-subtle message is underscored by the group's Web site, http://www.ehrlichisbush.com/ .

The group drew fire yesterday from the Maryland Republican Party. Its chairman, John Kane , speaking at a news conference, accused it of "operating illegally."

Among Kane's complaints was that the group had failed to file a quarterly report, due earlier this week, to the Internal Revenue Service detailing its contributors.

John Rouse , the group's executive director, said that he had encountered a glitch when filing information electronically with the IRS but that a paper report had been filed that was not immediately available on the IRS Web site. Rouse provided a copy of the report to The Washington Post.

Kane said he also saw "strong evidence" of possible coordination between the Maryland Fund and the campaign of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley , the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful. Such coordination between campaigns and 527 groups is illegal.

In 2004, Democrats raised similar complaints about another 527, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which ran ads challenging Democratic presidential contender John F. Kerry 's military credentials.

As evidence, the state GOP cited a Post article from last month that disclosed that one of those working for the fund was Jim Cauley, a consultant to O'Malley's 1999 mayoral campaign. More recently, he managed the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Rouse said the GOP claim of collusion was "frivolous and specious."

That sentiment was echoed by O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese , who called the GOP news conference "a desperate stunt."

Ad Distances Steele From GOP Woes

On the day a key witness in the Capitol Hill page scandal testified before the House Ethics Committee, Senate candidate Michael S. Steele (R) took steps to distance himself from the GOP leadership in a new campaign commercial alluding to the controversy.

Steele returns to the stark studio setting that he used in his original ads, this time making a personal appeal as a father of two teenage boys.

"When I see Washington politicians covering up scandal, protecting each other instead of protecting children, it's time to show them the door," he says, pointing to the neon-red exit sign above a door. "And I don't care which party they're in."

Steele's Democratic opponent, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin , has called for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to resign. Steele did not go that far yesterday.

After an investigation, if "there are fingers that should be smacked, let the chips fall where they may," he said before speaking to a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce conference in Bethesda.

"You do not go to Washington to abuse power. You do not go to Washington to prey on young children."

As Steele played up his independent persona, Cardin pounded away with ads linking the Republican candidate to President Bush.

In a new ad, Cardin reminds voters that Steele campaigned to reelect the president and spoke at the GOP convention and that the president helped raise money for the lieutenant governor.

The screen alternates between a clip of Steele, saying, "Let's continue to work to reelect President George W. Bush," and Bush saying, "I appreciate Michael Steele."

Steele acknowledged that the president is "not very popular right now," but he said "at the end of the day, I either help or hurt myself ultimately, because this is about what I bring to the table."

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