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Aleshire still pursuing answers on 2010 robocall

August 25, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Kristin B. Aleshire
Kristin B. Aleshire

Kristin B. Aleshire is pressing for answers about an 11th-hour robocall that attacked him before the Washington County commissioners election nearly two years ago.

Aleshire said he wants the state to enforce election laws that still haven’t been followed from that campaign season.

The Maryland State Board of Elections has forwarded Aleshire’s complaint to the state prosecutor’s office, which previously investigated the robocall case and found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

The robocall — which was sent to phones in Washington County on Nov. 1, 2010, the day before the election — included a line that it was authorized by the Washington County Republican Central Committee, but committee members later said that was untrue.

No one ever took credit for authorizing the call.

Because misuse of an “authority” line is a misdemeanor under Maryland law, the matter went to the state attorney general’s office in 2010, then the state prosecutor’s office, which determined there wasn’t any crime.

In his Jan. 27, 2012, filing, Aleshire asked the Maryland State Board of Elections for a new review. He contends that important issues haven’t been resolved, including:

• The robocall was something of value and, by law, was an expense or donation that must be documented on a campaign finance report, which didn’t happen.

• People who jointly plotted the robocall should have been required to register as a political committee, defined in state law as “A combination of two or more individuals that assist or attempt to assist in promoting the success or defeat of a candidate, political party, or question.”

There are penalties for violations of election law, even if they are unintentional.

Aleshire — a Democrat who lost his 2010 county commissioner re-election bid and is now running for Hagerstown City Council — asked the board of elections for a “declaratory ruling.” He submitted a binder thick with hundreds of pages of questions, laws, background of Washington County’s political players, news clippings and more. He lays out a version of what might have happened, based on what others have told him.

However, a declaratory ruling only is for the future actions of the person requesting it, not past actions by a third party, and therefore isn’t the right process for Aleshire’s complaint, said Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Linda H. Lamone, Maryland’s election administrator, sent Aleshire a letter explaining that in April.

On July 24, the board of elections forwarded Aleshire’s filing to the state prosecutor’s office, which handles enforcement matters, DeMarinis said.

Aleshire said Friday that he hasn’t heard yet from the prosecutor’s office about the status of the new investigation.

The state prosecutor’s office doesn’t confirm or deny requests it receives to investigate, said James I. Cabezas, the office’s chief investigator.

Aleshire said he planned to keep his challenge private, hoping more for results than publicity. But he was not pleased that the board of elections wouldn’t review his filing and isn’t protecting the integrity of its laws, he said, so he provided a copy of his challenge with The Herald-Mail.

Even though there was no evidence of a crime, no one connected with the robocall ever publicly explained what happened.

In his filing, Aleshire highlighted four people — County Commissioners Ruth Anne Callaham and John F. Barr, state Sen. Christopher B. Shank and political consultant Corey Stottlemyer — who he says strategized for his defeat.

In interviews last week for this story, the four said little more than what they said when asked about the call in 2010.

The only new information came from Stottlemyer, who wrote in an emailed statement: “It is my understanding the (Republican) Central Committee was to be billed $250 for the automated call, but that the bill was never paid.”

During a phone interview this month, Stottlemyer said Conquest Communications Group of Richmond, Va. — which has acknowledged that it was hired to place the call — told him it had written off the expense of the call.

In 2010, a Conquest official told The Herald-Mail that the Washington County Republican Central Committee hired his company to make the anti-Aleshire robocall, but the company later declined to comment further. The company didn’t return messages for comment for this story.

Stottlemyer declined to say anything more about the robocall, sticking to the rest of his brief emailed statement: “I was surprised to learn of Mr. Aleshire’s submission to the Board of Elections of documents depicting an inaccurate portrayal of events occurring in 2010. This situation was investigated and I fully cooperated with that investigation.”

Callaham, who won her seat in that 2010 election, hired Stottlemyer’s company, Core Strategies, to help with her winning campaign.

During an interview last week, Callaham reiterated that she did not “in any way, shape or form” plan, request or pay for the robocall.

Her only connection, she said, was talking to someone who wanted to use a woman’s voice on the call. Callaham said she did not approve of that idea.

Barr said last week that he also did not plot the robocall.

“I was not involved,” he said. “I had nothing to do with it .... I didn’t even know what a robocall was until after the fact.”

In his filing, Aleshire alleged that Barr, disappointed with Aleshire over certain issues when they both were commissioners, told the Republican Central Committee that “Mr. Aleshire had to go.” Aleshire claimed Barr “provided the talking points” used for the robocall, which attacked Aleshire on a few obscure points.

Barr called the allegation “totally preposterous.”

“I consider it closed,” said Shank, the only person who has publicly acknowledged being part of the discussions of the robocall. Shank has said he stepped back from talks about the robocall right before the election to focus on a sudden write-in challenge he faced from Donald F. Munson in the state Senate race.

Shank said last week that the state prosecutor’s investigated the robocall and “found nothing wrong, no smoking guns.”

In 2010, Shank said he told GOP committee members the full story of what he knew about the robocall and that it was up to others to “come forward and explain their involvement, and they know who they are.”

He characterized a mix-up about the authority line as “a series of unfortunate mistakes.”

In his filing, Aleshire alleged that Shank “offered various ideas on tactics” for defeating Aleshire and that Shank solicited talking points from Barr for Stottlemyer to give to Conquest for a robocall.

Elizabeth Paul, chairwoman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee, filed a complaint in November 2010 asking for the initial investigation.

The Washington County Republican Central Committee said at the time that its members “welcome and solicit” an investigation into the robocall falsely attributed to the committee.

Shank, Callaham and Barr said last week that the state prosecutor’s office never contacted them about the robocall.

The closest anyone has come to a public explanation of the robocall came in 2010 from Randy Buchman, who took over as Republican Central Committee chairman after the 2010 election.

Buchman blamed “a series of wrong assumptions and errors” and referred to “a passive communications company affirmation process,” in which Conquest was to place the robocall unless then-Republican Central Committee Chairwoman Paula Lampton responded to an email and told the company otherwise.

Shank, Callaham and Barr were among those who talked about GOP election strategy, Buchman said at the time; ideas for ammunition against Aleshire emerged from those discussions.

A campaign consultant — now known to be Stottlemyer — was the intermediary with Conquest, a company the consultant had worked with before.

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