WASHINGTON - A dealer's campaign for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin could restrict his company's advertising on TV and radio during the fall selling season.
But observers predict the Federal Election Commission will interpret a new political finance law to allow Russ Darrow Group to continue its broadcast ads during the campaign.
The new law prohibits corporations from spending money on broadcast "communications that reference a clearly identified federal candidate" within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election.
Russ Darrow Jr. founded the dealership group that bears his name. He is seeking the Republican Senate nomination in Wisconsin's Sept. 14 primary. His son, Russ Darrow III, is president of the company. He appears in some TV commercials for the company's stores, although they refer only to "Russ Darrow."
Russ Darrow Group of Menominee Falls, Wis., argues that if the campaign finance law were to apply to dealership ads, that would harm the business and its employees.
Many advocates of campaign finance reform say the law was not meant to block legitimate business advertising. Some have formally urged the election commission to let the Darrow dealerships continue to broadcast commercials throughout the campaign.
If Darrow wins the GOP nomination, he would challenge Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, a co-author of the 2002 campaign finance law.
Last week, nationally syndicated political columnist George Will castigated the law, its sponsors and its advocates. Will argued the law interferes with constitutionally protected speech, citing Darrow's situation.
Will's column criticized Jay Heck, executive director of Wisconsin Common Cause, which supports the law. Heck calls that criticism misinformed. Heck says he believes the election commission will issue an opinion, sought by Russ Darrow Group, exempting its advertising from the law. But Heck says if Russ Darrow Jr. were to appear in dealership commericals telling the people of Wisconsin how much they can trust him, then the law could apply.
Under a previous campaign law, Joel Hyatt, a former U.S. Senate candidate in Ohio, was fined for appearing in commercials for his company, Hyatt Legal Services. The commercials appeared to have been designed for the campaign season. They touted the law firm for "serving the people of Ohio."