Campaign manager defends himself against election fraud charges

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 02, 2011 5:54 PM
Campaign manager defends himself against election fraud charges

By Jason Tomassini

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A former Republican governor's aide accused of election fraud in Maryland defended himself in court on Friday against claims an automated phone message he authorized was intended to suppress black Democrat voters.

Paul Schurick, 55, campaign manager for former Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich, testified that the phone calls made to more than 100,000 Democratic, mostly-black voters on election night last year were intended to inspire them to vote.

The message assured listeners that Ehrlich's Democratic opponent -- incumbent Martin O'Malley who had defeated Ehrlich's reelection bid in 2006 -- and President Barack Obama, who was not up for election, were already "successful."

"Our goals have been met," said the message delivered in a woman's voice starting at about 6 p.m. on November 2.

"The polls are correct and we took it back. We're OK. Relax. Everything's fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight."

Prosecutors say the calls were approved as Ehrlich's support among black voters plummeted, according to emails between Schurick and a polling expert one week before the election, but by suppressing black voters -- who heavily favored O'Malley -- Ehrlich could make up significant ground.

Schurick is charged with two counts of conspiracy, one count of election fraud and one count of failing to include a mandatory line indicating which candidate approved the calls.

Schurick admitted that amid a hectic election day and reports of low voter turnout, he authorized the calls. Around 4:40 p.m., Julius Henson, a political consultant hired by the Ehrlich campaign to appeal to African-American voters, read him the script over the phone.

"I accepted it," said Schurick, who testified for about two hours on Friday. "He's the expert. As I said to him, 'I'm paying you $16,000 a month to come up with a strategy.'"

The calls were intended to be "counterintuitive," Schurick said. Upon hearing that O'Malley had won, black Democratic voters who were sympathetic to Ehrlich would be motivated to vote, he said.

Defense attorneys also called several witnesses, high-ranking members of Maryland's political institutions, to vouch for Schurick, who has held top positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations for years.

On Thursday, jurors heard testimony from Ehrlich, former Republican National Committee chairman and current MSNBC analyst Michael Steele and former Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel.

Closing arguments and jury deliberation are expected to begin Monday.

(Editing by Michelle Nichols and Jerry Norton)