Democratic Party says GOP ads violate law


The state Democratic Party has asked prosecutors to investigate Republican-sponsored radio and newspaper ads targeting three Anne Arundel County lawmakers, saying the advertisements allegedly violate state law.

The ads began running last week and asked residents to contact Democratic Sens. John C. Astle, James E. DeGrange Sr. and Philip C. Jimeno to urge them to vote to sustain Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s planned veto of a medical malpractice reform bill and his previous veto of a bill to provide more funding to higher education.

Republicans spent almost $25,000 on the ads, Democratic Party Chairman Terry L. Lierman said in a letter Friday to State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh. Lierman said that under state law, only registered lobbyists can spend more than $2,000 on ads meant to influence legislation. The Maryland Republican Party has not registered as a lobbyist, according to state records.

"As such, these electronic and print advertisements are flagrant violations of Maryland law that deserve a complete and thorough investigation," Lierman wrote in his letter to Rohrbaugh.

Rohrbaugh could not be reached for comment yesterday.

State Republican Party Chairman John Kane said the law does not apply because the group does not receive payment for its services. "We have reviewed this with our counsel, and we are within the boundary of the law," he said. "This is nothing but an attempt to affect our grass-roots efforts."

Lierman said yesterday in a telephone interview that he expects the GOP will be forced to stop running the ads and apologize to the three lawmakers. "It shows how desperate the governor is to try to intimidate lawmakers into doing what he wants," Lierman said.

Lawmakers passed the medical malpractice bill during a special session last month. Ehrlich has vowed to veto the legislation, in part because it includes a 2 percent tax on HMOs.

The higher education bill would raise the corporate income tax to provide more funding to the university system and cap annual tuition increases at 5 percent.

Ehrlich announced last week that he would put an additional $43 million for universities in his forthcoming budget, which system officials say will be enough to hold next year's tuition increases to under 6 percent.

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