When is a campaign ad not a campaign ad? The outcome of the Gordon Smith - Jeff Merkley Senate race could hinge on the answer.
The Democratic Party of Oregon, with money from the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has produced a couple of ads in which Merkley brags about his role as speaker of the Oregon House in passing laws to crack down on Internet predators, sex offenders and the meth epidemic. (See the latest one here.)
The Smith campaign is crying foul. It filed a complaint yesterday with the Federal Elections Commission charging the Democrats have broken the federal limit of $485,000 on the amount of money party committees are allowed to spend on an individual candidate's campaign.
The dispute is important, The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes blogs, because Smith has buckets of his own campaign cash while Merkley doesn't.
"Smith had nearly $4.9 million in the bank as of April 30 and is saturating the airwaves this summer," Mapes writes. "Merkley is still rebuilding his campaign war chest after a hard-fought primary against Steve Novick and can't match Smith on TV. But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has plenty of money in the bank - $37.5 million as of May 31 - and a strong desire to see Merkley topple Smith."
The Democrats are claiming the ads aren't really campaign ads because they don't mention that Merkley is running for the Senate - in fact, they don't mention the Senate race at all.
Be that as it may, they definitely give Merkley more visibility and tout his legislative achievements, which can't hurt him in the campaign. So it looks to The Eye like the Democrats, if they're not exactly breaking the law, are stretching it to the utmost.
And while we're on the subject of the Smith-Merkley campaign, Jesse Springer of Eugene has done a really funny cartoon about Gordo's attempt to hitch a ride on Barack Obama's coattails.