In the Spotlight

News & Features
Ad Watch
Laura McCallum
December 9, 1999
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Campaign 2000
Listen to the advertisements mentioned in this story on the Campaign 2000 Ad Watch page.
The 2000 election is 11 months away, yet campaign ads have already begun hitting the airwaves. DFL Senate candidate Mike Ciresi has been running radio spots on the Iron Range, the Republican Party has countered with an attack ad, and the first of what promises to be an explosion of so-called "issue ads" challenges Congressman Bill Luther.

MIKE CIRESI IS THE FIRST in the crowded field of seven DFL Senate candidates to start buying air time. Two radio spots running on the Iron Range were produced by the ad firm of Bill Hillsman, who developed ad campaigns for Governor Jesse Ventura and Senator Paul Wellstone. The spots portray the Twin Cities attorney as someone who can battle for Minnesota in Washington.
Ad: Maybe it's time we put a senator in office who doesn't just talk about fighting for the changes Minnesota needs, but someone who knows how to win those fights. Like Mike Ciresi. You might remember him as the trial attorney in Minnesota's suit against big tobacco - the case that won an astonishing $6 billion for the people of Minnesota...

Alger: This is a classic example of what we call an innoculation ad...
Ad analyst Dean Alger, the Minnesota director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, says Ciresi is trying to head off criticism that he's a highly paid lawyer who can buy his way into the Senate.
Alger: If somebody has a potential vulnerability, they want to start running ads early and basically it's like an innoculation against a disease; you put the ad out and you tackle the issue, but you frame it. You frame it in such a way that eases your weakness or defines it away.
Ciresi's ads tout his legal victories for victims of defective birth-control devices and a chemical spill in India and are designed to show that his big cases have benefited the little guy. But Ciresi's attempt to forestall criticism of his legal career didn't go unnoticed by the state Republican Party, which responded with its own Iron Range radio ad attacking the legal fees from the tobacco settlement.
Ad: $3,000 an hour is what trial lawyer Mike Ciresi charged the state of Minnesota for his legal services. His total bill: $440 million. Despite his $440 million fee to represent the state of Minnesota, Mike Ciresi says that was public service. He even says it makes him qualified to be a senator. He's already spending this money on political ads to convince us. Unbelievable.
The Republican ad is misleading, Alger says. The $440 million was paid by tobacco companies, not the state, and it went to Ciresi's law firm, although Ciresi is a partner and presumably got a big chunk of the money. Alger says the ad also neglects to mention that Ciresi's firm took the case on a contingency basis at a time when tobacco companies had never lost a case. But Alger says the staggering legal fee may resonate with the public.
Alger: To normal people like you and I, that sounds like an obscene amount of money even if they put in a lot of hours. It's an understandable target, and without question, the public had something of a reaction at least that said, "This is a heck of a lot of money."
While the Ciresi and Republican Party ads clearly identify a candidate, the radio and television ads sponsored by a group called Citizens for Better Medicare ostensibly target an issue. However, they criticize Democratic Congressman Bill Luther, a candidate for re-election, on the issue of prescription drugs for seniors.
Ad: In Washington, Democrats and Republicans are supporting exciting new plans that provide prescription drug coverage for seniors who need it without pushing millions of seniors into a big-government plan. But Congressman Bill Luther is playing politics, supporting a bill that may sound good, but doesn't help seniors get prescription coverage.
Alger says the ad is misleading on several fronts. The bill supported by Luther would require drug companies to give seniors the same discounts they give to bulk customers such as HMO's and the federal government. It does not create a "big government plan", as the ad implies. And Alger says the ad discloses nothing about Citizens for Better Medicare.
Alger: Now to the casual viewer, this sounds like a bunch of regular "John and Jane Q. Citizens" got together and are trying to improve Medicare. In truth, this group and its ad is primarily funded by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of America.
Alger has long argued that these so-called "issue ads," which are not funded by a campaign and thus not subject to federal campaign finance and disclosure rules, should be required to clearly state who's paying for them. He's challenging the media to monitor and expose issue ads, which he says will make up a major portion of the $600 million likely to be spent on campaign ads nationally in 2000.