Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign, charging that recent Al Franken TV and radio ads contain lies about the Republican incumbent, is suing the Democrat's campaign for allegedly violating state campaign law.

Mark Drake, a Coleman spokesman, said at a State Capitol news conference Thursday that statements that Coleman has been named "the fourth most corrupt senator in Washington" and lives in a D.C. apartment "almost rent free" are patently false.

"Al Franken has chosen to push the lines of believability far beyond the bounds of truth," Drake said.

Because the complaint was being filed five days before the election, there is no chance the case will be decided by then.

The claim that Coleman ranks fourth among senators in corruption is based on a recent list put together by the Washington watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which names three senators among "the 20 most corrupt members of Congress" and then gives Coleman a "dishonorable mention."

CREW never actually names Coleman "the fourth most corrupt senator," Drake said, nor is there any mention of the fact that CREW is led by Melanie Sloan, who has worked for high-profile Democrats and appeared several times on Franken's Air America radio show.

Reached in Washington on Thursday, Sloan said she was surprised that the Franken campaign had extrapolated a ranking for Coleman from the group's corruption list and called it an exaggeration.

"We don't rank the people on the list. Mr. Coleman was included as one of the members to watch [because of the apartment controversy], not one of the most corrupt," she said.

Drake characterized CREW as a "liberal front group," but Sloan pointed out that six of the 20 members of Congress they call most corrupt are Democrats.

Regarding Coleman's D.C. living quarters, Drake said that the senator pays $600 a month to rent a bedroom and bath in a rowhouse owned by his longtime friend and political telemarketer, Jeff Larson.

Although the campaign released copies of Coleman's lease and rent checks last summer, it has not yet produced proof that the senator pays for his share of utilities in the house.

In 1998, Coleman charged Hubert Humphrey III, one of his opponents for governor, with distorting his position on family farms. In 2002, he filed a complaint against Sen. Paul Wellstone for saying that Coleman supported privatizing Social Security. The complaints were both dropped after the election.

Said Franken spokeswoman Colleen Murray: "Our ads are factual and true, even if Norm Coleman doesn't like being held accountable for his conduct. Every time someone tries to hold Norm Coleman accountable, he runs to court to try to weasel out of it."

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455