WBAL-A-OK: Ehrlich show not a campaign contribution, AG says
The Kendel and Bob Ehrlich show, which airs for two hours each Saturday morning on WBAL radio, should not be considered a campaign contribution, the Maryland Attorney General's Office said in a letter released this morning.
The letter came as advice to the State Board of Elections, after the Maryland Democratic Party complained to the board that the show is essentially an in-kind campaign contribution from the station to Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is trying to reclaim the governor's office from Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.
In an 11-page letter to Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey L. Darsie advises the elections board not to "analyze the broadcast of a candidate's political remarks as a possible in-kind contribution."
"In general, state efforts to regulate media appearances by a candidate, potential candidate or others through a state's campaign finance laws raises significant First Amendment concerns," the assistant attorney general wrote. "This is true even where the person appearing has some practical control over the content of the broadcast, including as host."
Ehrlich has said he plans to stay on the air until he officially files his candidacy with the elections board in July, at which time his wife, Kendel, might take over full hosting duties. The radio station said it vetted the legality of the Ehrlich show with lawyers before determining he could continue. The station, which has carried the Ehrlich show since 2007, also said it has offered equal time to O'Malley for years now.
Democrats responded quickly to the attorney general's letter. Party Chairwoman Susan Turnbull said Ehrlich is "exploiting a technicality in the law."
"Today's opinion is not surprising given that Bob Ehrlich is using a loophole in the law to keep his talk show on WBAL-radio," Turnbull said in a statement.
The Democratic Party also has complained that Ehrlich's employer, the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, is giving Ehrlich in-kind campaign contributions in the form of firm employees and a de facto headquarters in Baltimore.
An attorney for Ehrlich said the firm's actions should not be analyzed because Ehrlich is not an official gubernatorial candidate in the eyes of the law. He becomes one only after filing his candidacy paperwork with the elections board, the attorney said. The Board of Elections has sought the attorney general's advice on that issue, too, and is awaiting a response.