Observers have been shocked and outraged by two Maryland Republicans' use of homeless and poor Philadelphians
to pass out misleading campaign material at the polls on Election Day. Now it turns out the duo had tried this sort of thing before.
This past Tuesday, for $100 and the promise of three meals, the GOP candidates for governor and senator recruited dozens of the least fortunate
from Philadelphia's shelters -- all or most of whom were black -- to come to Maryland for the day and pass out fliers portraying the two hopefuls as "our choice" for African-American voters. (Steele is black; Ehrlich most definitely is not.)
The tactic was brazenly amoral, but also logistically curious. Why did the candidates go all the way to Philadelphia for homeless people, when there are thousands in Baltimore and nearby Washington, D.C.? If they wanted deniability, why did Ehrlich's wife -- Maryland's current first lady -- meet
the buses and pass out hats?
It turns out the duo pulled a very similar stunt at least once before, in 2002, according to the New Republic
. Then, they pulled homeless people from D.C. shelters, and black students from nearby Bowie State, and the candidates kept their distance from the operation. Instead of telling them to distribute literature, the campaign instructed the recruits to go door-to-door in predominantly black neighborhoods, telling residents that they were "volunteers" trying to get Maryland to elect its first black lieutenant governor.
It was a debacle:
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.