An all-out advertising war has broken out in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race over the estate tax issue. Republican Norm Coleman's campaign is asking a Washington D.C.-area special interest group to stop running ads attacking incumbent DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone on the estate tax issue. The Coleman campaign is also extending a proposal that both campaigns fight off outside advertising. But Wellstone's campaign says it will not ask outside groups to stay out of the Senate contest and will not ask the Minnesota DFL Party to pull an ad the Democrats say sets Wellstone's estate tax record straight.
The ad that started the flap between the Coleman and Wellstone campaigns is a 60-second radio spot paid for by a special interest group called "Americans for Job Security." It began running early last week.
The spot features a couple distraught - then outraged - that they owe estate taxes on a farm inherited from one of their diseased parents.
The ad attacks Wellstone for his vote against repealing the estate tax, known to critics as the "death tax."
The Wellstone campaign called the ad vicious and untruthful. Minnesota DFL Party leaders labeled it "one of the most negative ads in Minnesota politics. The DFL then responded with its own radio ad.
The DFL ad links the special interest group "Americans for Job Security," with the insurance industry and Norm Coleman's law firm.
And, perhaps more importantly, makes clear that Wellstone voted in favor of exempting family farmers and small business owners from the controversial estate tax.
At a state Capitol news conference, Coleman's campaign manager, Ben Whitney demanded the DFL pull its response ad. He accused the DFL of citing a relationship between Coleman and the special interest group that Whitney says does not exist.
Whitney also told reporters he's asked Americans for Job Security to stop running ads attacking Wellstone even though, he says, the ad that started the battle is completely factual.
And Whitney is using the latest ad flap as an opportunity to extend a proposal to the Wellstone campaign in which both candidates would begin fighting off any special interest or soft money advertising aimed at bolstering their respective campaigns.
"We're asking a group that has run ads, not to run additional ads, we would ask Sen. Wellstone to do the same. We invite him to do what he didn't do in March, which was to agree to try and keep to the best that we can that third-party ads out of Minnesota," Whitney said.
In March, the Wellstone campaign called the Coleman independent expenditure/soft money ban proposal a "gimmick and a sham."
"They let their supporters run this attack ad," says Wellstone campaign manager Jeff Blodgett. "Last week they claim that they have nothing to do with it and can't do anything about it. The second the DFL Party runs an ad that corrects the record on this vicious ad, they somehow cry foul; it's ridiculous."
And in the latest skirmish in the battle, Americans for Job Security has released another version of the estate tax ad.
"Money grubbing ain't a strong enough word for what Wellstone's trying to do," the ad says. "Our folks paid their fair share. When will Wellstone understand that simple fact."
The group did not return phone calls and it's unclear whether it will stop running the ads as requested by the Coleman campaign.
The Minnesota DFL says it will continue running its ad.