The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance will jump into the battle to define Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. today by launching a radio advertising campaign attacking his positions on gun control, cigarette taxes and casino-style gambling.
The radio ad -- almost identical to one that the group aired against Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in the 1998 gubernatorial campaign -- contends that Ehrlich is controlled by the "rich special interests" associated with guns, tobacco and gambling.
"Bob Ehrlich postures himself as a moderate Republican when in truth he's a right-wing conservative," said Bishop Douglas I. Miles, a past president of the alliance and pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church in Baltimore. "Our reason for running the ad this time is to demonstrate to Marylanders that he is nothing more than Ellen Sauerbrey with a less abrasive style and manner."
But a spokesman for the Ehrlich campaign defended the Baltimore County congressman as being moderate on gun control. He said the ad was coming from a group that has benefited from state grants distributed by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
"This is exactly what we expected, the beginning of Kathleen's negative campaign," said Ehrlich spokesman Paul E. Schurick. "Reverend Miles should have little credibility in most people's opinions because this is a man who has received [money] from Kathleen's office. ... It comes as no surprise that he's rushing to her side right now."
Schurick criticized the alliance for releasing the ad to the news media yesterday, a day when Gov. Parris N. Glendening had requested a temporary halt to political campaigns to honor the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. "It's disgusting that a group of religious leaders would do this on a day of national mourning," he said.
A spokesman for the Townsend campaign said the ad was done without its knowledge.
Miles said the alliance specifically delayed its news conference and the start of its ads until today, out of respect for the anniversary. He said that churches receiving state grant dollars from Townsend's crime control office -- including $10,000 last month to promote safe evening activities for youths -- are separate from the alliance, and such money is not going to the ad campaign.
The alliance -- which is made up of more than 200 predominantly African-American churches and has endorsed Townsend -- intends to spend at least $20,000 for time on Baltimore and Washington radio stations. Ministers will be joined at today's news conference by gun control, anti-smoking and anti-gambling advocacy groups.
"He opposes the 36-cent increase in the cigarette tax, and we think that's outrageous," said Vincent DeMarco, executive director of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, a group seeking expanded health care for the poor. "Where Kathleen endorsed the tobacco tax, he's taking $30,000 in contributions from tobacco companies."
Schurick said other Maryland congressmen have accepted tobacco contributions and that Ehrlich supports curbing teen-age smoking -- but not through a tobacco tax. State campaign fund-raising reports show Townsend has received at least $1,000 from a tobacco company.
In addition to the radio ad, a fund-raising letter written by Ehrlich for his 1994 congressional campaign will be released today by Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse.
The letter urges contributors to join "Gunowners to Elect Bob Ehrlich" and criticizes the father of Ehrlich's 1994 congressional opponent for voting to support 1968 gun control legislation. Ehrlich's letter describes the law as being "the most far-reaching infringement of your Second Amendment rights in the history of our nation."
"That legislation banned people from owning guns if they are a convicted felon, fugitive from justice, mentally ill or an abuser of drugs or alcohol," said Ginni Wolf, executive director of MAHA. "If that's what he believes the Second Amendment means, that's not a moderate position."
Schurick dismissed it as "an 8-year-old fund-raising letter about a bill that passed 34 years ago, and it should have no relevance to Maryland today."
"By all reasonable measures, Bob is moderate on the issue of gun control," Schurick said, noting Ehrlich's support of background checks at gun shows.
In the 60-second radio ad, Ehrlich is accused of voting against "reasonable gun laws" banning assault weapons, opposing "measures to curb teen smoking" and letting casinos "fill our state with 10,000 slot machines." Ehrlich's campaign does not dispute the votes mentioned by the alliance. The ad is punctuated with sound effects, including a gunshot, a smoker's cough and the ringing of a cash register. It advises people to call Ehrlich's campaign headquarters and gives the phone number.