- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. tried to hide his extensive use of a private helicopter during his gubernatorial campaign by not disclosing it in campaign-finance reports, a Democratic Party spokesman said Wednesday.
The Republican congressman has spent 16 years in public office in Congress and the Maryland House of Delegates and is well aware of campaign procedure, said Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson.
"This is not something that slips through the cracks. It's something they were hoping to get away with," Mr. Paulson said.
Ehrlich spokesman Paul Schurick acknowledged Wednesday that the helicopter use had not been reported, but said it will be disclosed in a campaign report to be filed next week.
Mr. Paulson said the statement appeared to be an attempt to rectify the situation after getting caught. The Democratic Party will consider filing a formal complaint against Mr. Ehrlich, he said.
Mr. Ehrlich said in an interview with WBAL radio that "there's nothing wrong or illegal there."
"It's a corporate contribution," he said. "Corporations donate in state races."
The helicopter was provided by Whirlwind Aviation Inc., which is run by J. Duncan Smith, the vice president of Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., which owns 62 television stations, including WBFF and WNUV in Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday.
After an inquiry by the newspaper, the Ehrlich campaign provided a series of undated invoices from Whirlwind for use of the Dauphin Eurocopter.
Ross Goldstein, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the Maryland State Board of Elections, declined to discuss the case specifically.
In general, however, Mr. Goldstein said candidates are "required to report things in the period you receive them and failing to do so would frustrate the intent of the law."
Mr. Schurick said Mr. Smith and his family are longtime Ehrlich supporters who felt that the flight services would be a more valuable asset than a cash donation.
"The arrangement with the helicopter is perfectly legal and perfectly ethical," Mr. Schurick said. "The only error that appears to have been made is the timeliness of the disclosure."
Mr. Schurick said a campaign-finance report due next week will include $13,750 for use of the helicopter, based on an hourly rate of $1,000. The campaign will pay $6,050 to Whirlwind and $7,700 will be an "in-kind" contribution from the company.
The aircraft was used at least six times during and after the campaign, Mr. Schurick said. Mr. Ehrlich and his family used the helicopter eight days after the election to travel between Washington and Ocean City, where they were vacationing.
Mr. Schurick said he did not see any ethical problems with accepting contributions from a company connected to a television station that covered the gubernatorial campaign.
Democrats complained that WBFF showed a bias against Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic nominee, during the campaign.
"Channel 45 has some very good reporters," Mr. Paulson said. "I think on the whole, however, the balance and thrust throughout this campaign has been entirely skewed against the Democrats in this race and in favor of Bob Ehrlich."
Bill Fanshawe, general manager of WBFF and WNUV, said the coverage was evenhanded and thorough.


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