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Campaign Notebook: Coleman says Franken ad false

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign spokesman, Mark Drake, looks at his notes while a television commercial plays in the background claiming his boss is the fourth most corrupt senator. Drake announced the campaign is challenging the allegation of Democratic challenger Al Franken. (Don Davis/St. Paul Bureau)

ST. PAUL - U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign accuses his main challenger of making illegal comments in two commercials.

The campaign of Coleman, a Republican, says Democratic challenger Al Franken ran a television commercial and a radio spot that break Minnesota law by saying Coleman lives "almost rent free" and that he is the "fourth most corrupt" senator.

"They are running ads that are flat-out false," Coleman spokesman Mark Drake said Thursday.

Franken's advertisements credit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for the information. Drake called the organization a "front group" for liberal politicians, adding that many of its leaders have donated to the Franken campaign.

Drake admitted Coleman was listed among the 24 most corrupt members of Congress, as figured by the organization. Only four senators were named; the rest are U.S. House members.

As for the rent dispute, the Washington group has filed a complaint saying that Coleman received a sweetheart deal from a political friend in renting his basement apartment for $600 a month. No ruling has been made whether the rent arrangement is ethical.

"Our ads are factual and true, even if Norm Coleman doesn't like being held accountable for his conduct," Franken spokeswoman Colleen Murray said. "Every time someone tries to hold Norm Coleman accountable, he runs to court to try to weasel out of it. In none of the three prior times he's done this has he ever been successful, and he won't be this time, either."

Drake said the Coleman campaign cannot "let this slide by."

The allegation is that Franken violated state law by making false claims in the ads, a gross misdemeanor.

The allegation was filed with the state Office of Administrative Hearings.

Pawlenty campaigns

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is back on the John McCain campaign trail.

The Kansas City Star reported he is due in its city today with Sandy Froman, immediate past president of the National Rifle Association of America. They are to be part of the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City's home show and two other stops.

'No truth'

A woman accused of intimidating a St. Paul voter denied the charges Thursday.

The woman's Tuesday night call prompted Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to accuse Minnesota Majority, a group promoting conservative causes, of voter intimidation. He passed information on to federal and county prosecutors on Wednesday.

But on Thursday, Minnesota Majority President Jeff Davis and the woman, a volunteer for the group, disputed what Larry Johnson of St. Paul said occurred in the call.

"Jean Sanford is a sweet little grandma," Davis said, and could not intimidate anyone.

Sanford said she was making calls on behalf of Minnesota Majority, checking on voters who had two addresses. It is part of what the group says is an effort to ensure a fair election.

In an affidavit, Sanford disputed several things Johnson said in his own affidavit that accused her of intimidation. For instance, Johnson said, Sanford told him she was working with Ritchie's office. But she said that she never said anything like that.

Davis said Ritchie fabricated the situation to divert attention from his lax handling of voter records.

Barkley advertises

Dean Barkley knocks his two major U.S. Senate opponents off their pedestals, figuratively, in his only television commercial.

The commercial that debuted Thursday night on Twin Cities network television stations and on cable channels across the state shows the Independence Party candidate in a rural setting knocking down pedestals with cutouts of Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken falling to the ground.

The commercial was designed by Bill Hillsman, who created "The Thinker" and other well received commercials when Jesse Ventura ran for governor 10 years ago.

Barkley said his campaign raised $15,000 in two hours after appearing on a Texas radio show Thursday, with that and all other last-minute money he gets headed to buy more television time.

He said he was nearing $175,000 in total contributions, a fraction of the $40 million the other candidates received.

The aim of the commercial was to show "I'm not special, I just got angry enough to get into politics," Barkley said.