Oregon: FEC Complaint Targets Ads Featuring Merkley

Posted July 9, 2008 at 6:32pm

Sen. Gordon Smith’s (R) re-election campaign on Wednesday filed a Federal Election Commission complaint alleging that the Oregon Democratic Party and Democratic Senate nominee Jeff Merkley have coordinated their efforts in violation of federal law and are running illegal television advertisements.

In the two 30-second spots that are the subject of Smith’s FEC complaint, Merkley looks directly into the camera and urges Congress to address various issues, although the ads themselves do not urge voters to either support Merkley or reject Smith in the Senate contest.

However, the ads, funded by the Oregon Democratic Party with some help from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, completely revolve around Merkley. They feature him interacting with people much in the same way he might be featured in an express-advocacy campaign ad.

Smith’s team is crying foul.

“Jeff Merkley would have us believe he appeared in ads paid for by the DPO and DSCC that have nothing to do with his candidacy for U.S. Senate. It is laughable, ridiculous and illegal,” Smith campaign spokeswoman Lindsay Gilbride said.

The state Democratic Party and the Merkley campaign both rejected Smith’s FEC complaint as being without any legal merit. The Merkley campaign said the complaint was a smoke screen to obscure Smith’s positions on key issues.

“Gordon Smith is so desperate to avoid talking about veterans and public safety issues that he will construct a frivolous legal claim,” Merkley campaign spokesman Matt Canter said.

The Smith campaign disagrees.

In a memo, Gilbride writes that Merkley and the state Democratic Party have run afoul of the law because federal election law dictates that “the candidate … have no authorization or material involvement” in ads run by third parties.

“The advertisement that Merkley was featured in was clearly coordinated between Jeff Merkley and the Democratic Party of Oregon,” Gilbride continues in the memo. “It would be impossible for Merkley to not have authorized the ad.”