Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith said Friday that Democrat Jeff Merkley is breaking the law by continuing to appear in campaign ads paid for by the state Democratic Party.
"I think lawmakers should not be lawbreakers," Smith said.
"I expected a spirited campaign from Jeff Merkley. I did not expect him to be so flagrant in violating the law," Smith told The Associated Press.
Smith, a Republican, said Merkley was "putting political expediency ahead of his own integrity and the intelligence of Oregon voters."
Merkley has appeared in three TV ads talking about his record on crime, veterans issues and taxes. He said Friday that the ads are not intended to help him get elected.
"It's a campaign ad if someone advocates for the campaign," Merkley said in an interview. "But the senators and House members wrote the law very clearly so every citizen has the chance to engage in issue ads" that do not advocate the defeat or election of a specific candidate.
Smith has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, charging that Merkley and state Democrats are trying to circumvent federal law to give Merkley more money for advertising.
Merkley, the Oregon House speaker, had about $569,000 in the bank at the end of June &
far below the $4.5 million cash on hand reported by Smith. In all, Merkley has raised about $2.8 million for the campaign to $9.7 million for Smith.
Smith said the party-paid ads are thinly disguised efforts to skirt campaign finance laws, by having Merkley appear in so-called "issue" ads that do not advocate for or against a specific candidate. In that way, Merkley can receive virtually unlimited help from the state party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which helps Democratic Senate candidates across the country.
Democrats say Merkley appears in the ads merely as a party spokesman"" a claim Smith called "an assault on reason" and an insult to the intelligence of Oregon voters.
"Obviously they think they can get away with breaking the law, and the people of Oregon will not notice," Smith said. "I think the people of Oregon deserve better than the Merkley campaign is showing."
Smith called the dispute more than a technicality over who is paying for campaign ads.
"At the core this a question of character &
Jeff Merkley's character &
and he is choosing the violate the spirit and the letter of the law."
Merkley called Smith's comments inappropriate.
"There's no legal question here. These ads are completely about the issues &
issues that are very important to this country," Merkley said.
Merkley said Smith has spent the past month trying to convince voters that he's really a Democrat &
referring to a TV ad in which Smith cited his work with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
That effort failed, Merkley said, and now Smith "has resorted to taking his campaign into the gutter. He's making charges that he knows are inaccurate and it's unfortunate."
Merkley accused Smith of running the most negative Senate campaign in the country and said Smith was the first Republican incumbent to air negative ads about a Democratic opponent &
including ads that aired before Oregon's May 20 primary.
"Instead of having a debate over the real issues that face Oregonians, Smith's real record and my vision for the state he is choosing to make personal assaults," Merkley said.
Smith said he was merely responding to Merkley's illegal ads.
His Obama ad pointed out his long record of working with lawmakers from both parties, including Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Smith said.
"If people want leadership, I've shown that," he said. "If people want excessive partisanship, well, that's what Jeff Merkley has shown."
Sen. Smith calls Merkley a lawbreaker