Ehrlich called for NAACP audit
From the Baltimore Sun IRS audit of NAACP was asked Documents from '00-'01 mention fundraiser, then-Rep. Ehrlich, Steffen
By Kelly Brewington
May 18, 2006
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s chief fundraiser asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the NAACP's tax-exempt status shortly after the 2000 presidential campaign, questioning whether the civil rights organization had inappropriately sought to influence the election.
Two months later, Ehrlich - then a Baltimore County congressman - wrote to the agency urging a response to Richard E. Hug's complaint and directing that the answer also be sent to his "special projects coordinator," Joseph F. Steffen Jr.
Attorneys for the NAACP said the letters were among 523 pages of documents the IRS accumulated to begin its October 2004 inquiry into the Baltimore-based civil rights organization's tax-exempt status.
The other lawmakers included: Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Rep. Jo Ann Davis of Virginia, Rep. Larry Combest of Texas and Rep. Joe Scarborough of Florida, now an MSNBC personality. Like Ehrlich, all are Republicans.
Hug said yesterday that his Dec. 14, 2000, letter to IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti was prompted by a television ad sponsored by the NAACP's National Voter Fund. In the campaign ad, the daughter of James Byrd, a black man dragged to death by three white men in a pickup truck in Texas, blames then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush for refusing her pleas for hate-crime legislation.
Hug, who was then the finance chairman in Maryland for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, said the ads were an attack on Bush from a group that is forbidden to engage in political campaigns.
Hug goes on to say that he is concerned about the NAACP's political activity. "This organization has become increasingly political in recent years ... and I would suspect much of its contributed funds are being used for political purposes."
Hug and Steffen have close ties to Ehrlich that have been scrutinized over recent months. Hug - who helped Ehrlich raise more than $10 million in the 2002 gubernatorial campaign - was appointed by the governor to the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. He announced his resignation from the board last week so he can help raise money again, complying with a new law banning political activities by board members.
Marcus S. Owens, an attorney for the NAACP, said the letters and other documents reveal widespread criticism the organization received from Republican politicians, raising questions about the audit's motivation.
"It's clear that the NAACP drew a lot of criticism and complaints from the Republican Party and many of the complaints don't have a lot of substance to them," he said. "The circumstances of the audit came just weeks before the election, and apparently ... they were triggered from members of the Republican Party at some level. It expresses some concern about the motivation and intention of the audit."
Matthew Crenson, chairman of the political science department at the Johns Hopkins University, said the letters point to Ehrlich's very conservative leanings in Congress and could hurt his opportunity to gain black votes in his quest for re-election.
"It's going to tell black voters something, that this is a guy who has a record that isn't exactly favorable to black organizations or civil rights organizations," Crenson said. "It could hurt him, although he probably isn't going to get a large percentage of the black vote this time, so he may not lose much by this.
I expect Mike Steele to be asked about this, and to back the governor when he should step away from him.
But then, maybe I'll be surprised.
Update: Oh Michael, will you ever disappoint
Meanwhile, Steele called the NAACP's release of the documents politically motivated.Let me explain this to you slowly: this is a character issue. Black, middle class supporters respect the NAACP and many are members. When you do not defend the group, it seems as if you are not willing to stand up for even the most basic principles that the black community holds dear. Not a good way to get votes from black voters. And that is the only way you win when 1/3rd of the state is black and white Republicans will abandon you.
"I hope everyone is understanding of their duties," he said. "We should leave the politics to the politicians, and the NAACP should stay true to working on issues of civil rights."
But Steele also expressed concern that the NAACP might be unfairly targeted. "I would be disappointed if it's a singling out of the NAACP over other organizations," he said.
posted by Steve @ 12:02:00 AM