Ehrlich no 'candidate' yet, lawyer says
The Ehrlich campaign has responded to the State Board of Elections' questions about potentially improper in-kind contributions by accusing the board of using the wrong definition of "candidate."
A lawyer for Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said in an April 28 letter to the board that "the entire premise" of its inquiry is "fundamentally flawed" because Ehrlich is not yet an official candidate under state law.
Ehrlich announced last month that he'll try to win back his old job from Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who ousted him in November 2006.
Jared DeMarinis, state director of candidacy and campaign finance, had asked Ehrlich to provide information about whether his law firm, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, was in effect donating to his campaign without reporting it.
The DeMarinis request followed a hefty push by the Maryland Democratic Party. Democrats called Womble's Baltimore office "the de facto campaign headquarters" for Ehrlich and accused Henry Fawell, who works for Womble's strategic communications group, of improperly serving as Ehrlich's campaign spokesman while on the clock at the law firm.
The party also helpfully reminded everyone today that Ehrlich's 30 days to respond to the Board of Elections had expired.
In his letter to Ehrlich last month, DeMarinis asserted that the former governor is a candidate because he has a political fund-raising committee. (By that definition, Ehrlich has been a "candidate" during his entire three years out of office.)
But Ehrlich attorney John H. West III says that in the eyes of state law, no one becomes a candidate until filing with the Board of Elections. That won't happen until July. Therefore, West wrote, DeMarinis' questions about how Ehrlich may or may not have been using Womble's resources are moot.
West's seven-page letter goes on to provide basic information about Womble anyway. Not much new there, though we learn that Greg Massoni, Ehrlich's former press secretary, resigned from Womble on March 31. (Like Fawell, he had been in the firm's strategic communications group.) Several other Ehrlich aides-turned-Womble employees, including Fawell and Paul Schurick, have reduced their firm schedules to part-time now that the gubernatorial campaign is heating up.
The question of who is a candidate -- and when -- is not new.
Democrats also want Ehrlich to pull the plug on his WBAL radio show, saying it's not fair that he has all of that air time while O'Malley doesn't (though WBAL has offered time to the governor). WBAL's attorneys have said Ehrlich is not in violation of FCC rules because, under the definition the FCC uses, he's not an official candidate.
And an aide to state Sen. Andrew P. Harris got mired in a "define 'candidate'" debate earlier this year. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller asked Kathy Szeliga to resign because she is planning a run for state delegate and Miller thought it was wrong for her to remain a General Assembly employee. She and Miller reached a compromise that allowed her to keep her job.
Perhaps all of this debate points to a need to rethink "candidate" in more modern, media-saturated terms. With free social media like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, campaigns can get going months -- even years -- earlier than ever, making that July filing deadline somewhat meaningless.