SALEM &

Democratic Senate challenger Jeff Merkley's campaign launched a TV ad Thursday seeking to turn the tables on Republican Sen. Gordon Smith's criticism of new legislative furniture, saying that a top aide to Smith had backed the furniture purchase.




Smith's campaign quickly disputed that assertion.




The exchange between the two camps arises from what has become the most contentious issue in Oregon's U.S. Senate race &

the 2007 Oregon Legislature's decision to spend $2 million to buy new furniture for individual state lawmakers and their staffs.




Smith has run TV ads criticizing Merkley, who's speaker of the Oregon House, for voting to approve the purchase of "lavish" furniture for lawmakers as part of a $34 million renovation project at the State Capitol.




In his new TV ad, Merkley said the renovation project was endorsed by a public commission that included a "top aide" to Smith. That was a reference to Kerry Tymchuk, who is Smith's state director and one of his closest political advisers.




"He voted in favor the bipartisan plan Smith now criticizes," Merkley's TV ad said of Tymchuk.




Tymchuk served as a citizen volunteer on the Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature, which in November 2006 issued a report listing ways to improve the Legislature.




The commission's final report contains one reference to furniture in a section dealing with the overall renovation of the House and Senate wings at the Capitol.




"The wings have overloaded network cable trays, bad air quality and circulation, fire 'chimneys,' furniture that does not meet ergonomic standards, and a fire sprinkler that is not up-to-code," the report said.




Tymchuk, in an interview, said his vote to adopt the report did not represent an endorsement of lawmakers going out and buying $2 million worth of furniture for themselves and their staff. The commission was only advisory in nature, and it was Merkley and other members of the 2007 Legislature who made the decision to purchase furniture, he said.




Merkley's campaign spokesman, Matt Canter, said Tymchuk and others on the commission gave their blessing to the furniture purchase by adopting the report. He also said there had been specific discussions among some commission members about the need for new furniture.




"It's typical Washington politics," Canter said. "Gordon Smith is talking out of both sides of his mouth on this issue."




Tymchuk said, however, he had never heard any discussions of buying new furniture for lawmakers while he served on the commission.




"We never heard any hint of testimony about furniture," Smith's state director said.