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Rales Buses in Supporters

A public relations firm working for Democratic businessman Josh Rales's campaign for U.S. Senate in Maryland paid a drug-treatment center in Baltimore to bus about 20 patients to a candidates forum last week to boost visibility for the political newcomer, the firm and campaign said yesterday.

Rales, a Montgomery County real estate developer and philanthropist, has put at least $1.4.million into his Senate campaign, according to his June 30 filing with the Federal Election Commission. Among the 29 Senate candidates in Maryland, Rales is third in fundraising behind Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R).

The recovering addicts helped post signs around the University of Maryland's College Park campus before the debate and later wore campaign T-shirts and waved banners to support Rales.

The campaign hired the firm, 21st Century Group -- which it has paid $20,000, according to campaign finance filings -- to coordinate visibility at events. Rales communications director Alyson Chadwick said the campaign did not authorize the firm to bus the patients in.

The Baltimore-based firm's president, Adrian Harpool, said he is a longtime donor to the treatment center, I Can't, We Can, and has recruited patients to volunteer for past events unrelated to Rales's campaign. Harpool said he calculated that his staff of about a half-dozen people was not large enough for a visibility campaign at the debate, so he paid to have the patients bused in.

He said he did not pay thems stipends for their time. Harpool said the firm spent about $1,000 to cover the bus transportation and food expenses. The firm also provided the T-shirts and signs.

Phil Rucker

By Phyllis Jordan  |  July 26, 2006; 10:00 AM ET
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