UPDATED: Attack Ads, Responses Mask Truth

One of two attack ads being aired in Colorado against Democratic Senate candidate Mark Udall beats up on the 2nd District Congressman for introducing a bill nearly identical to one that a number of Republicans – including Colorado’s 4th District Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave – introduced last year.The ad’s content has fallen off the radar as charges fly about the relationship between the supposedly independent political group Common Sense Issues Inc. and Udall’s opponent, former Republican Congressman Bob Schaffer.

The ad in question shows Udall getting a made-up “Cuban hero award” from Fidel Castro for sponsoring a bill that lets U.S. companies drill for oil off the coast of Cuba. The ad tries to make Udall seem like a commie sympathizer while he opposes drilling for oil and gas on Colorado’s Roan Plateau.

The problem for Republicans is that the bill Udall sponsored in the current session of Congress mirrors a very similar bill introduced by Republicans in the Senate in 2006 and a very similar bill co-sponsored by Musgrave in the House of Representatives in 2006.

So if the GOP is going to link Udall to Fidel for wanting to let the U.S. drill for oil, Republicans need to add John Warner, John Thune, Larry Craig, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Pete Domenici, Ted Stevens, Musgrave and a bunch of other prominent Republicans to the Red Squad. Their drilling legislation apparently would have done the same thing.

Schaffer campaign consultant Walt Klein said he was unaware of the other drilling bills. Klein said Udall’s willingness to drill off-shore, but not on the Roan was an issue, as was Udall’s willingness to lift the trade embargo with Cuba to do so.

“What’s the difference between a bad idea by Republicans and a bad idea by Democrats,” Schaffer said. “Raul and Fidel Castro are still doing cartwheels.”

“I think he (Udall) was trying to throw a bone to the energy industry,” Klein said.

But Klein called the charge that the Schaffer campaign had illegally conspired with Common Sense Issues on the attack ads “B.S.”

“You’d think there was some deep, dark secret unexpectedly revealed,” Klein said. “The fact is, Mark Udall placed a statement in the Congressional Record. “There was tremendous blog traffic over this. It was no big secret.”

Schaffer refused to comment on the charge or the attack ads.

“They (the Democrats) can file a complaint, and I can respond to it,” he said. If Democrats don’t file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, he added, then they know they have no case.

Schaffer has been talking about the drilling bill for months at campaign stops, Klein said. Klein himself brought it up in several meetings, including one at the University of Colorado Law School Nov. 27. But Klein said neither Schaffer nor his staff has had illegal contact with Common Sense Issues, as Udall’s campaign manager, Mike Melanson, charged in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News.

“What I would say to Mike Melanson is this: Put up or shut up,” Klein challenged.

He said the Schaffer campaign will continue to talk about the Cuba drilling bill and Udall’s support several years ago for a cabinet level Department of Peace, a stance which is the focus of the second Common Sense Issues attack ad.

Federal election laws make it illegal for Schaffer or his staff to have contact with groups such as Common Sense Issues. At the same time, these groups, which are supposed to educate, not advocate, have become the designated hit men of recent political campaigns. They are not subject to campaign contribution limits and don’t have to disclose their funding sources.

“Where there’s smoke there’s usually fire,” insisted Matt Miller, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Maybe. Maybe not. Miller cited prior close relationships between Davis, Wadhams and Klein. He also cited the use of a web site name by Schaffer that is very close to names used by Common Sense Issues.

Klein said Davis was director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee six years ago when Klein worked to help re-elect Wayne Allard.

He called the Democrats’ charge and Melanson’s specifically “guilt by association.”

The idea that political operatives know each other proves nothing. That’s why this battle is being fought in the press and not with a complaint of illegal behavior to the Federal Election Commission.

What remains without a formal investigation are questions about the truth of attack ads on Udall.

Or in the case of the Castro connection, a lie of omission.