Maryland Democrats yesterday called on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to stop broadcasting state tourism ads on stations that air in Maryland, calling the commercials "blatantly political" and "outright illegal."
The $2.7 million ad campaign stars Ehrlich (R) as a sort of super-governor who swoops in to help folks with their everyday chores so they can go out and enjoy Maryland's attractions. The commercials have aired mostly in mid-Atlantic states, but a national cable buy placed them in rotation on some stations within Maryland.
"These ads are targeted to Maryland households with Maryland voters, urging them to visit a place where they already live," Maryland Democratic Chairman Isiah Leggett said in a statement.
"That leaves only one conclusion: Governor Ehrlich and his team of taxpayer-funded political operatives are using millions in state dollars in an effort to boost his positive name recognition across the state," Leggett said. "It is wrong to use any state resources for such a purpose. In fact, it is outright illegal."
Ehrlich aides said yesterday he has no intention of pulling the ads, which they said have shown signs they are boosting tourism. "Who better to promote tourism and to promote Maryland than its chief executive?" asked spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver.
Last week, the governor filmed another series of the tourism ads, part of a year-long campaign being handled by GKV Communications, a Baltimore-based advertising firm. The state's tourism office plans to extend the campaign for three more years.
Ed Blakely, the governor's new director of strategic marketing and one of those supervising the tourism campaign, is a former Capitol Hill advertising executive who worked regularly on commercials for GOP candidates. He said in an interview last week that "we're not denying that there's some political gain" in using Ehrlich as the pitchman in the ad campaign.
But the decision to use the governor was based entirely on what would work best for the state, Blakely said.
The latest ads, which will start airing in mid-September, show Ehrlich, flanked by first lady Kendel S. Ehrlich and their 5-year-old son, Drew, approaching a man trimming a hedge and offering to take over so the man can visit Maryland.
"Our tourism is family oriented," said Dennis Castleman, the state's marketing director. "It makes a lot of sense to use a good-looking, vibrant family to sell the state. It sends the right message."
But Leggett said that sending that message -- that Ehrlich is a good neighbor or that he's a family man -- should not be done on the taxpayer's dime.