BOISE – A campaign commercial that U.S. Rep. Bill Sali, R-Idaho, has been running since last week attacking Democratic challenger Walt Minnick incorrectly cites a 1993 lawsuit as evidence that Minnick opposes domestic oil drilling – something Minnick says he favors.
The lawsuit, Wilderness Society v. Babbitt, had nothing to do with oil drilling. It was about grazing rules in a wildlife refuge.
Wayne Hoffman, spokesman for Sali’s campaign, said the ad’s reference will be changed. “We’re not talking about one case, we’re talking about several cases, we’re talking about a pattern of behaviors,” Hoffman said.
The ad sought to use Minnick’s membership on the board of the Wilderness Society to contradict his statements in support of domestic oil drilling. It said, “He claims to back drilling but was part of a lawsuit to block drilling,” while displaying the name of the 1993 lawsuit.
“This is a group that is actively involved in stopping grazing, drilling and timber harvest,” Hoffman said, calling the Wilderness Society “an environmental extremist group.”
Yet Sali’s fellow Republicans, Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo, are working with the Wilderness Society to craft Idaho wilderness bills.
“During Walt’s time on the board of the Wilderness Society, they have moved toward consensus …,” said John Foster, spokesman for Minnick’s campaign.
The issue came up when Sali and Minnick faced off Wednesday at a lunch forum sponsored by the Boise City Club.
“The Wilderness Society is a group that is interested in protecting … our quality of life,” Minnick said. “I am on its board. I don’t always agree with positions taken by its board.”
The group has objected to opening a wetlands complex in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve to oil drilling. The complex had been designated as off-limits to drilling, but the Bush administration changed its plans to open 100 percent of the reserve to drilling.
The National Audubon Society filed suit in federal court in Alaska, and the Wilderness Society was one of six co-plaintiffs that signed on. The environmental groups won the lawsuit, National Audubon Society v. Kempthorne, in September 2006.
Minnick said he supported more drilling in the short term in places that would yield the most oil the fastest and be the least disruptive. He also called for jump-starting alternative energy projects and more conservation.
He criticized Sali for votes against tax credits and incentives for alternative energy, including wind, solar and biofuels. Sali said his “no” votes came “because of all the other garbage that was in the bill.”
The Minnick campaign also noted that Sali’s ad, dubbed “Walt’s Dance” and featuring a greasy-haired actor doing a disco dance, violated a federal law requiring federal candidates who run ads within 60 days of the election to show an image of the candidate for at least four seconds with a statement that the candidate approved the ad. Sali’s ad didn’t meet that four-second rule.
Hoffman said that’s been fixed.
The two candidates clashed most sharply Wednesday when Minnick portrayed Sali as running afoul of the rules.
“Congressman Sali has been unable to set up his office in the right district, he has used his office as a base for campaign staff,” he said.
“Whoa!” Sali interjected.
But Minnick continued. “He’s been late in his financial reports and he’s just had to take down his latest attack ad on me ….” Minnick said as a CEO, he takes “personal responsibility” for the operations at his company. “We can expect a congressman to take personal responsibility for complying with the law that regulates the operation of a campaign and his office,” he said.
Sali responded, “Well, we didn’t take down our TV ad, it’s still going to go up. We did change one little citation on there because we had a miscommunication between our office and our media guy and he put the wrong thing in there.”
He added, “This charge that you’re making about me using my official business office to do campaign work is absolutely false and I’m going to demand right here and right now that you take it back!”
That statement was met with laughter from the audience.
Hoffman confirmed that three key congressional staffers for Sali – Hoffman, district director Jonathan Parker and Coeur d’Alene staffer Tina Jacobson – also are working on the campaign. In August, Parker and Jacobson dropped to part-time pay in the congressional office so they could devote time to the campaign, but he’s stayed on full-time, taking time out occasionally to take campaign calls from reporters on a campaign cell phone.