- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Republican leaders say the probes targeting Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign are nothing more than a partisan attempt by a Democratic-appointed special prosecutor to tarnish the first Republican administration in 34 years.
"They are fishing. They are trying to find anything they can find," said state Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus. "It seems like some people are very intent on finding something to give this administration a black eye before it even gets started."
Mr. Stoltzfus' comment came in response to a report yesterday by the Baltimore Sun that Democratic-appointed Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli had nearly completed an investigation into whether the Republican Party illegally paid workers to hand out literature at the polls on Election Day.
The practice known as paying "walking-around money" was once common in state politics, but was banned in the late 1970s.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Montanarelli opened an inquiry into whether Mr. Ehrlich's campaign committee intentionally broke election law by failing to report discounted helicopter travel as an in-kind contribution.
The Sun yesterday reported criminal charges were expected in a probe that has linked Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele's campaign committee to a temporary-employment agency that may have paid the walking-around money to workers recruited from a homeless shelter in the District.
Shareese N. Deleaver, spokeswoman for the Ehrlich campaign and now for the transition team, said that neither the candidates nor the campaigns authorized paying walking-around money. She said they were cooperating fully with the investigation.
"If it is revealed that someone was paid, it will be news to all of us," she said.
Mr. Montanarelli said the probes were not politically motivated, and he will announce the result of the investigation in about two weeks.
"We received complaints and we responded to them. That has nothing to do with either Republican or Democratic politics," he said. "I don't understand why people think this is politically motivated. It is the state prosecutor doing his job."
Maryland Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson said the investigations were legitimate. "To say this is not legitimate is to fly in the face of reason and logic," he said. "It is entirely spin."
Mr. Montanarelli's work has had political overtones before.
At the urging of Democratic state legislators, Mr. Montanarelli sought an indictment in 1999 against federal employee Linda Tripp for recording telephone conversations with co-worker Monica Lewinsky about her sexual relationship with then-President Clinton. The recordings were used during the investigation that led to Mr. Clinton's impeachment.
Mr. Montanarelli said the case was not politically motivated and dropped the charges after a Howard County judge suppressed testimony from Miss Lewinsky.
"If any legislator out there was scrutinized, you would find something not that they would have intentionally broke the law," said Mr. Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican. "It is like if a trooper follows a car long enough and is intent on finding a violation, he is going to find one."
He said the governor-elect's campaign was open and forthcoming with information about the helicopter rides and with every other issue arising from the race. "I don't think we should ever be afraid of investigations," he said. "But at the same time, let's not do it for the purpose of a vendetta."
Walking-around money became a campaign issue in the days leading up to the Nov. 5 election when the Democratic Party openly advertised to pay workers $75 or $100 to go door to door in heavily Democratic precincts and urge people to vote.
The Ehrlich campaign balked at the illegal offer, but Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a Democrat, advised that the payments would be legal if the workers refrained from indicating a preference of candidate or party. "To be prosecuting Republicans after they gave Democrats the go-ahead with a wink and a nod is typical of the arrogance of power that we have come to expect in Maryland," said Republican strategist Kevin Igoe.
He said it was too early to judge whether Mr. Montanarelli was playing a partisan role in the investigations, but the focus on the Republicans while Democrats openly paid Election Day workers begged questions about a double standard.
The Democratic Party "asked us to believe they were going to turn out votes in a nonpartisan manner."
"There is naivete and then there is stupidity. That crossed the line," said Mr. Igoe, a political consultant living in Southern Maryland.
John M. Kane, newly elected chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, said party leaders had anticipated a slew of Democratic attacks and investigations aimed at the new administration.
"They ought to at least wait until the new administration gets sworn in," he said.
Mr. Kane said he did not know if Mr. Montanarelli had a political agenda, but the people pushing for investigations of Mr. Ehrlich were clearly motivated by party allegiance. He said the state prosecutor had been inundated by a Democratic letter-writing campaign.

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