Aide charges anti-Mayfield ad got illegal aid

photo Republican primary candidate for Congress Scottie Mayfield

LAST DAY TO VOTE EARLYToday is the last day of early voting for the Aug. 2 election in Hamilton County:Brainerd Recreation Center, 1010 N. Moore Road; Eastwood Church, 4300 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road; Northgate Mall, entrance at former Shanes Rib Shack/Pizza Hut next to Belk, today from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.Hamilton County Election Commission, 700 River Terminal Road, today from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

Scottie Mayfield's congressional campaign says a top aide to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann illegally provided the brainpower behind a television ad that claims Mayfield is "good at ice cream, not so good on the issues."

The Fleischmann campaign vigorously denied involvement in the ad, which was paid for by a South Carolina group. But Mayfield consultant Tommy Hopper stood by his allegations, implicitly accusing the congressman's chief of staff of violating federal law.

"We simply do not believe that an out-of-state PAC with no known ties to Tennessee has any interest in our primary unless led here by one of our opponents," Hopper said.

Mayfield is running against Fleischmann in the 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.

Federal regulations prohibit candidates, campaigns and their agents from "coordinating" on independent expenditures made by outside political committees. In general, independent expenditures for or against a candidate are considered "coordinated" if they're made in cooperation or consultation with a campaign.

Bankrolled by the Beaufort, S.C.-based Citizens for a Working America, the $165,000 ad campaign is the second time an independent, out-of-state political committee has spent money on the 3rd District primary.

Airing in Chattanooga and Knoxville broadcast markets, the anti-Mayfield ad includes an instrumental version of "Pop Goes the Weasel" and melting vanilla ice cream -- direct hits on the dairy executive's intelligence and political savvy.

"Scottie Mayfield: Good at ice cream, not so good on the issues," the ad's narrator concludes.

Mayfield's advisers said recent remarks offered by Fleischmann chief of staff Chip Saltsman shed doubt on the campaign's denials.

According to audio obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Saltsman, speaking for Fleischmann at a rally last week in Campbell County, said, "good ice cream, bad politics" in a rhetorical swipe against Mayfield.

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"Chip's comments are oddly similar to the overall theme of the ad," Hopper said in an email, "and it's a fact that the Fleischmann campaign plays fast and loose with the law and the facts."

Saltsman laughed when greeted with Hopper's allegation, adding that he has no ties to Citizens for a Working America.

"Don't know them. But I've heard that comment about Mayfield having good milk or ice cream and bad politics or issues 100 times," he said. "It's something a lot of people say. A lot of people talk about it."

The other independent expenditure came from the American Conservative Union, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that spent at least $30,000 on a July radio buy in support of Fleischmann.

Records show OnMessage Inc., an ad agency in Virginia, produced both ads.

Saltsman and OnMessage Inc. co-founder Brad Todd are Facebook friends, but the connections go beyond that. Saltsman was elected Tennessee Republican Party chairman in 1998, and Todd was the state party's executive director in 1997-98, according to his LinkedIn page.

Todd did not return phone calls, but Saltsman said the two briefly worked together.

"He was at the party when I was elected, but I replaced him," Saltsman said. Saltsman denied coordination and said he hasn't spoken with Todd "since last winter."

Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., said it's difficult to prove "coordination" even though the Federal Election Commission has subpoena power over such matters.

"It typically requires some sort of smoking gun," he said. "Internal emails, for example. It may require recorded phone conversations. Someone wearing a wire. You need some evidence."

A $475,000 ad buy for Mitt Romney in December 2011 is the only other expenditure Citizens for a Working America has ever made, records show. As of Thursday, the organization was listed as based in Dayton, Ohio, but on Friday that was changed to Beaufort, S.C.

Despite requests from the Federal Election Commission to do so, Citizens for a Working America has not disclosed its donors. Norm Cummings, a Virginia-based Republican political consultant whose name is on the organization's filings, could not be reached for comment.

FEC records show Cummings has never contributed to a Tennessee race before this week. His organization's ad uses clips from an April video showing Mayfield stonewalling when asked by a college student if he could identify "two or three things" he'd like to do in Congress.

"I don't have any specifics at this point," Mayfield says on the tape. "I haven't really focused on that."

Those remarks appear to be taken out of context. Mayfield actually responded to the question by saying, "Other than the tax code thing, I don't have any specifics at this point because it really depends on what you do up there, really depends on what committees you've been placed."

Other 3rd Congressional District candidates are Republicans Ron Bhalla and Weston Wamp; Democrats Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor; and independent Matthew Deniston.

Wamp summed up the rest of the field with a Facebook post Friday.

"As my opponents turn to negative TV attacks in the final days of this campaign, we will rise above petty politics," he wrote. "Will you join us?"

Primaries are Thursday.

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