Thursday, August 4, 2011

Of Robocalls and Rebuttals...

My friend and fellow blogger Joe Steffen recently published a blog entry responding to my own assertion that Bob Ehrlich likely had no role in planning or executing the infamous race-based robocalls which have since landed two of his confederates in hot water.
In my own blog entry, I made the case as to why Ehrlich likely was not a part of planning this specific activity. In Steffen’s blog, he makes a strong case that Ehrlich has a long history of implicitly – and, in some instances, not so implicitly – indulging the kinds of dark campaign shenanigans the robocalls represent.
Both make valid, mutually non-exclusive arguments.
In the past, Ehrlich tended to dismiss the kinds of Election Day hijinks that Steffen references in a casual, chortling, “everybody does it” kind of way.
In fact, in 1998 the campaign handed out a trophy as an award to individuals it believed engaged in such activities on behalf of a candidate for the Maryland State Senate.
Years later, when the Washington Post asked Ehrlich about his campaign’s alleged tolerance for such salacious monkeyshines, he dismissed them as “silly stuff.”
But reckless indulgence is one thing. Breaking the law is quite another.  
To date, the robocall matter is the only Ehrlich campaign activity to result in a criminal prosecution.  That is why I think reaffirming Ehrlich’s likely non-involvement is significant.
In my blog posting on this subject, I made the point that Ehrlich’s being a lawyer made his participation in this episode less likely. Steffen questioned the relevance of this fact. I feel it is relevant because it speaks to Ehrlich’s understanding of the legal process and awareness of the consequences of violating the law.
Add to this the fact that he is an inveterate worrier – in 1996 he made multiple staffers call the Board of Elections to confirm that there were no problems with the reelection paperwork he already filed – and I just cannot see how an intelligent guy like Bob Ehrlich could be part of this high risk, no gain misadventure. As campaign strategy goes, the robocalls demonstrated the same degree of strategic wisdom as a soldier tapping his foot on the ground in lieu of a mine detector.
Still, Steffen’s larger point is valid. Indulging these kinds of activities over time does not leave you entirely blameless for an episode in which you were not directly involved.
After the embarrassing incident in 2006 in which homeless men were bused in from Philadelphia to hand out deceptive literature at the polls, Ehrlich had a chance to implement a zero tolerance policy for such mischief.
Instead, in 2010, he countenanced Paul Schurick’s decision to engage Julius Henson, a man notorious for racially-charged politics. It’s like hiring Casey Anthony to be your nanny, and being surprised when something actually goes wrong.
I hope everyone – especially those left to pick up the pieces in the state GOP – can move beyond this unfortunate episode.  That includes Bob Ehrlich, whose legacy is better and stronger than his 2010 defeat and the ensuring robocall scandal.
As for Schurick and Henson, I don’t want to see them go to jail. I’d settle for watching the perma-smirk disappear from Schurick’s face. But that’s another story.

1 comment:

  1. Richard - Quick commet from my beach chair.....

    1. The timeline in the Schurick/Henson indictment shows a sample of the robocall was sent to Schurick's AND Massoni's cell phones before the trigger was pulled. As anyone who ever received a nasty email from Bob Ehrlich knows, Massoni is Bob Ehrlich's communications portal. Senior is fond of calling his son his "one and only." The one and only reason to send a sample of the robocall to Massoni's cell phone before it went out was so Bob Ehrlich would know about it.

    2. Paul Schurick's stupidity continues. He's allowing lawyers loyal to Bob Ehrlich to represent him in this case, which greatly reduces the likelihood he will pursue what is likely the best strategy for a political aide caught red handed: squeal on the boss.

    Their public comments indicate Schurick's and Henson's lawyers are relying on a first amendment appeal, which is a red herring. Anyone who ever took intro to con law knows the first amendment doesn't give you the right to yell FIRE! in a crowded theater. It doesn't give you the right to suggest you're aligned or affiliated with the O'Malley campaign by using the line, "Our goals have been met," and then deliberately omitting the legally required authority line which would have made clear to robocall recipients that indeed the robocall sender's goals had not been met (because the sender was not aligned or affiliated with the O'Malley campaign, as the text of the call suggested).

    Perhaps Schurick blew through the $16,000 monthly salary Ehrlich's campaign paid him and the handsome salary Womble Carlyle likely paid him before that. If that's the case, Ehrlich's campaign donors or Bob Ehrlich personlly might be paying Schurick's legal bills. No matter who is paying, Paul Schurick is a fool for entrusting his legal defense to Bob Ehrlich's lawyers.

    3. Just a hunch on my part, but perhaps Henson did contract work for the Ehrlich campaign in 2006. Henson approached Team Ehrlich that year (because he hates Martin O'Malley) and was publicly rebuffed, as he was in 2002. But maybe some of the $417,000 paid to Sandy Roberts/Allied Berton (or the $900,000 paid to Delphine Hall Anderson Mobley) from the Ehrlich, Cox, and Steele campaigns AND the Maryland Republican Party went to Julius Henson. Team Ehrlich wouldn't have wanted Henson showing up on disclosures in 2006, but they were desperate for his services.

    Sandy Roberts was the liaison to Malik Aziz in Philadelpia, who recruited the ex cons unwittingly bused to Baltimore and Prince George's to pose as Ehrlich Steele volunteers, but nothing in that Washington lawyer and failed businessman's CV suggests he possessed the skill set to produce the fake ballots or transport the shanghaied fake volunteers to targeted polling places and precincts for lit drops. Very few Maryland professionals could pull that off, and Julius Henson, who specializes in targeting African American voters and was eager to help Ehrlich's campaign against their mutual foe O'Malley, is one of them.

    - Lebowitz

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