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Del. Patrick L. McDonough
Del. Patrick L. McDonough (2014 file photo The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

McDonough uses House of Delegates staff to promote campaign ad

Dutch Ruppersberger

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md.

An attempt to use radio commercials to criticize U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger over a controversial blimp program may fall on deaf ears amid questions that a state delegate violated legislative ethics by using office interns to distribute campaign related materials in the State House.

Del. Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, acknowledged that the statement was timed for the release Friday of a one-minute campaign commercial claiming “Ruppersberger wasted billions in taxpayers’ money on failed blimps.”

The ad will premiere during four conservative talk shows on WCBM starting Tuesday with plans to roll them out to more stations, according to the delegate.

“The ad is hard-hitting, “McDonough said in an interview Thursday.

The half-page release announces McDonough’s radio ads that “Blasts Dutch and his blimps” and closely associates the ads and announcement with the delegate’s congressional campaign.

A credentialed intern working for McDonough acknowledged the release was for the congressional campaign as she handed papers out to reporters and slid them into the mailboxes of news organizations along press row in the State House.

Legislative ethics rule prohibit the use of state resources or employees for campaign purposes as well as ban political solicitations and distribution of campaign materials within the State House.

McDonough acknowledged the timing and tie-in with the campaign and said he could see how it could be construed as campaign related but added that the release, which is not on state letterhead and lists his personal email and cell phone number, doesn’t tell people to vote for him or against Ruppersberger.

“To me, it’s just a news item,” McDonough said. “It occurred in the state of Maryland and affected the state and my district, quite frankly.”

Ruppersberger, who previously supported the program called JLENS — Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System — said earlier this month that he would not back reinstatement of the program after one of two 242-foot blimps stationed in Maryland became untethered and floated into Pennsylvania, where it knocked out power to thousands before crashing in a wooded area near Moreland Township in November.

An unmanned Army surveillance blimp which broke loose from its ground tether in Maryland floats through the air about 1,000 feet about the ground while dragging a several thousand foot tether line just south of Millville, Pa., on Wednesday. (Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP)

An unmanned Army surveillance blimp which broke loose from its ground tether in Maryland floats through the air about 1,000 feet about the ground while dragging a several thousand foot tether line just south of Millville, Pa., on Wednesday. (Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP)

In September, the Los Angeles Times reported a government audit revealed that the two-decade-old, $2.7 billion program has not lived up to expectations, including failing to identify what amounted to an “Inspector Gadget”-like gyrocopter that a 61-year old Florida postal employee flew into Washington air space and then landed on the lawn of the Capitol.

The paper called the system “a zombie project” and said it routinely had trouble distinguishing between friendly and enemy aircraft.

McDonough’s ad attacks Ruppersberger over the cost of the project and his receipt of $50,000 in donations from Raytheon Corporation.

“We’re not going to drop it,” McDonough said of the issue. “We’re going to keep hitting it.”

McDonough is not sponsoring legislation related to the blimps, and the General Assembly is not taking up the issue.

McDonough, a five-term member of the House of Delegates, is one of five Republicans seeking their party’s nomination to challenge Ruppersberger in November.