Despite FEC Complaints, Oregon Democrats Air Ad With Merkley

Posted July 17, 2008 at 11:35am

Thumbing its nose at a Federal Election Commission complaint filed by Sen. Gordon Smith’s (R-Ore.) re-election campaign alleging illegal coordination, the Oregon Democratic Party on Thursday unveiled another television ad featuring Smith’s opponent, state Speaker Jeff Merkley (D).

This new ad, partially paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, opens with an ominous-looking picture of the U.S. Capitol with a voice-over saying that Congress is “out of control” and running up massive deficits that are placing an increased tax burden on the middle class. Enter Merkley, who looks directly into the camera and talks about his record in the Oregon Legislature of focusing on the middle class and balancing the state budget.

Smith’s campaign last week filed an FEC complaint alleging illegal coordination in two earlier state Democratic Party ads that featured Merkley.

Those two ads, and this latest spot, do not expressly advocate against Smith or urge voters to choose Merkley over the incumbent in the Nov. 4 election — although they are undoubtedly a cost-effective way for Merkley to boost his credentials and name identification. Merkley closed the second-quarter FEC fundraising period with just $569,000 on hand, compared to Smith’s $4.5 million.

In the new spot, which like the first two, runs for 30 seconds, Merkley sounds every bit like a politician running for federal office, although he stops short of criticizing Smith or asking voters for their support. Federal regulations prohibit direct coordination between candidate campaigns and third-party advocacy groups and political party committees.

“Washington needs to get its budget under control and remember who’s paying the taxes,” Merkley says in the ad, which ends with a written encouragement to call Congress and tell it to change its ways.

The Oregon Democratic Party said that the ad is running statewide on broadcast television. A campaign spokeswoman for Smith said “the Merkley campaign continues to skirt the law.”

“Merkley’s at it again,” spokeswoman Lindsay Gilbride said. “Jeff Merkley is touting his own legislative work and legislation record in an ad he claims is not about him.”

No hearing date has been scheduled on the FEC complaint about the earlier state party ads.