Already accused by rivals of skirting election law by using his business to promote his political ambitions, Republican James Oberweis on Thursday couldn't resist plugging his boutique dairy and his brokerage firms as he formally announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate.
Seeking his party's nomination for a Senate seat for the second time in two years, Oberweis also struggled to present his views on abortion, an issue that plagued him in his unsuccessful 2002 primary race.
The candidate's dairy, which bears his name, launched its first-ever television advertising campaign just five days before Oberweis' campaign kickoff. The ads, which are scheduled to run for eight weeks, feature Oberweis, who is among several Republicans and Democrats seeking the Senate seat held by Republican Peter Fitzgerald, who has decided not to seek a second term.
The ads had earlier been criticized by at least one of his Republican rivals as illegal corporate contributions to the Oberweis campaign.
On Thursday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called on Oberweis to pull the dairy ads. The Democratic group charged that one of the principals of the Washington-based advertising agency that produced the commercials had served as a consultant and spokesman for Oberweis' 2002 campaign and produced his political ads.
Officials of Oberweis dairy and Oberweis' campaign denied any coordination over the dairy ads. Such collaboration would be banned under federal election law.
But on Thursday, Oberweis opened himself up to a new round of criticism by citing federal election law to say the dairy's ad campaign was "100 percent legal" as long as it didn't run within 30 days of the March primary or 60 days before the November general election.
Stacey Zolt, a local spokeswoman for the Democratic Senate group, said Oberweis' comments only "underscore the argument that coordination" existed between his campaign and his dairy business.
"These are ads paid for by a corporation which intended, at least in part, to promote the candidacy of the corporation's chairman," Zolt said.
Oberweis was also accused of attempting to leverage his dairy business during his last Senate campaign, in which he finished second in a three-way Republican primary. Oberweis used a campaign logo similar to that of his products and stores and dispensed ice cream at campaign events. He doled out more ice cream Thursday during a stop to announce his candidacy in Springfield.
In Chicago, where Oberweis pledged to help job-creation efforts and adopted a no-tax-increase pledge, he deviated from the text of his campaign speech when he pointed out that the success of his dairy business includes "those who buy our milk at our own stores or at Dominick's or Jewel or other grocery chains."
Later, in talking about his successful brokerage business, he ad-libbed, "Just to throw a little plug in--our mutual funds are up 64 percent, 44 percent and 34 percent this year so far in what is, what some people have viewed, a fairly tough stock market."
In his previous campaign, Oberweis was plagued by complaints from some abortion-rights opponents who contended he gave contradictory statements on the issue depending upon the audience he was addressing.
On Thursday, Oberweis said he was "misquoted" in statements regarding abortion that he made even before he announced his 2002 candidacy, even though one of his comments was made during a radio show. In those statements, he likened religious control of government policy to the "Taliban."
Oberweis also said a Roman Catholic organization that had condemned those comments later issued a "retraction." It did not. The group, the Catholic League, has said it accepted his apology as well as his promise never to make similar remarks again.
In his earlier run, Oberweis described himself as "pro-life" but said he didn't believe "bureaucrats in Washington belong in the decision-making process" on abortion rights.
He also opposed amending the Constitution to ban abortions.
But on Thursday, Oberweis said he opposed all abortions, except those needed to save the life of the mother.
He also said he would now support a constitutional amendment representing that view "if the right opportunity were there, phrased in the right way."
Oberweis said he expected to spend $1 million of his own money in the campaign. Campaign reports filed earlier this week by other announced Republican candidates showed former investment broker Jack Ryan made a $1 million loan to his campaign while lawyer John Cox lent his campaign $25,000 and businessman Andrew McKenna gave his campaign nearly $50,000.
McKenna, who formally announced his campaign last month, reported raising about $496,000 in donations for the three-month period that ended June 30.
Ryan's campaign touted that it had raised $153,250 without holding a fundraiser. Outside his $25,000 loan, Cox had raised no other cash.
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