Sunday, November 05, 2006

Steeling Votes

The New Republic's John Judis has written a nice piece, called "Steeling Votes", outlining scummy tactics used by Ehrlich and Steele in 2002 and 2006. Push polls have been big this year. However, we shouldn't forget that the dynamic duo stiffed homeless people who had been paid to campaign for them in 2002:

In 1979, Maryland passed a law barring campaigns from paying workers on election day to button hole voters. The law was in response to the widespread use in Baltimore of "walking around money" to buy black votes. On the eve of the 2002 election, candidate Ehrlich complained to State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli that the Democrats were planning to pay campaign workers. Warned by Montanarelli, the Democrats complied with the state law. But Ehrlich and Steele did not.

Part of Ehrlich's strategy was to use Steele, an African American, to attract black votes away from Townsend, who is white, particularly in predominately black Prince George's County, a suburb of Washington, D.C. But to do this, he and Steele took a page out of the old Baltimore playbook. Campaign aides went to predominately black Bowie State College and to Washington, D.C.'s largest homeless shelter to hire African Americans to campaign for Ehrlich and Steele on election day. They didn't try to win them over politically; they offered them between $100 and $150 and free meals to pretend they were backing Ehrlich.

At Washington's homeless shelter, the campaign workers were instructed to say they were "volunteers" and to conceal that they were getting paid. They were told to go into black areas of Prince George's County and tell voters that by electing Ehrlich, they would give Maryland its first African American lieutenant governor. At Bowie State, students who agreed to campaign were given shirts with "Democrats for Ehrlich" written on them and a picture of Steele. One student who was recruited told The Baltimore Sun, "They had young African-Americans standing out there like we were supporting him, when they know most African-Americans are Democrats."

About 250 recruits, drawn by the promise of free meals and a day's pay, participated in what one recruit later called a "scam from the start." The students didn't get their meals, and they didn't get paid. The homeless recruits also weren't paid, and, that night, the van that had taken them at dawn to Prince George's County and was supposed to transport them back to Washington, D.C. never showed up.

Some of the homeless workers reportedly staged a protest that night in front of the Democrats for Ehrlich headquarters in New Carrollton, Maryland. The next day, they enlisted legal help from the homeless center to get the money they had been promised. But the protest had alerted the state prosecutor, and when one of Ehrlich's campaign workers finally showed up with the money, investigators were on hand to witness the homeless recruits being paid.

Ehrlich and Steele, of course, denied any knowledge of the scam. "We did everything aboveboard absolutely," Steele told The Washington Post. But campaign finance records revealed that, on the eve of the election, the campaign made payments to two aides who were implicated in the scandal. Moreover, three days before the election, Ehrlich's campain paid $52,640 to a Washington, D.C. employment agency run by the same person who hired and eventually paid the homeless workers. A grand jury later indicted the agency head, along with the two campaign workers.

And we're surprised by misleading bumper stickers like "Steele Democrat" or that Ehrlich touts his pride in new laws which he didn't support during the legislative session?