Knowles tries to halt issue ads in Senate race

Former governor challenges Sen. Murkowksi to stop third parties from running soft-money advertisements

Posted: Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Tony Knowles called on his GOP opponent to take a hard line against so-called "issue ads" that have appeared recently in television segments.

Knowles said he's putting the word out to third-party groups not to run such "soft money" ads for his benefit, and he wants U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, to do the same.

"The fact is, we need to declare right now Alaska is off-limits to these Outside third-party ads," Knowles said Monday.

His public denouncement comes on the heels of television segments aired by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praising Murkowski for her work in the Senate.

Though Murkowski has said she had nothing to do with the ads, Knowles said candidates should speak out against them to stop the practice.

That's easier said than done, said Justin Stiefel, Murkowski's chief of staff.

"The whole idea of denouncing an ad after the fact, after it has run, is kind of worthless. It's like trying to unring the bell," Stiefel said.

But Murkowski remains opposed to the practice, whether the ads are positive or negative, because their message isn't controlled by the campaign, Stiefel said.

Stiefel predicted soft money segments from Democrat-leaning groups such as the Sierra Club or will surface during the Senate race.

Soft money advertisements were an issue in the 2002 Alaska gubernatorial race after an Alexandria, Va., group called Americans for Job Security took aim at then-Gov. Knowles and Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer. Ulmer was defeated by Republican Frank Murkowski.

And while the group echoed some of Murkowski's themes the exodus of Alaska's youth and a declining economy he disavowed the ads.

Murkowski appointed his daughter to the U.S. Senate seat that is up in 2004, and Knowles criticized the governor for the prevalence of issue ads here.

"That's what started it off," Knowles said. "To bring that kind of Washington politics to Alaska started a trend that we want to delouse."

Candidate campaign ads have to be funded with "hard money," money that is raised according to campaign finance limits.

But industry groups such as the Chamber, labor unions or environmental organizations can run an issue ad using money from any source, as long as it doesn't use words that expressly advocate for a candidate's election or defeat.

The Chamber segments praised Lisa Murkowski for "fighting for Alaskan jobs" and opposing "those who want to impose their agenda on our land."

It used file footage, or "B-roll" of Murkowski traveling around the state and talking to Alaskans. Stiefel said the footage was purchased from the Republican Senatorial Committee.

Similar segments are planned for key House and Senate races in other states along with more direct campaign work such as get-out-the vote drives, said Linda Rozett, a Chamber spokeswoman.

The group is currently considering targeting as many as 30 races around the country, Rozett said.

"The races the Chamber will become active in are races that are close and where our involvement can make a difference," said Rozett.

While Alaska is expected to be a battleground state for control of the U.S. Senate, it's unclear whether the Chamber plans further television ads here.

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