A judge on Thursday dismissed the remaining portion of a complaint that Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign filed against Al Franken in the waning days of their U.S. Senate race, ruling that a questionable statement in two Franken ads was "substantially accurate."
Coleman's campaign had charged that Franken violated state law by airing two alleged falsehoods in ads: that the senator lives in a Washington, D.C., apartment "almost rent free" and that a watchdog group with liberal ties had named him "the fourth most corrupt senator in Washington."
Administrative Law Judge Barbara Neilson last week tossed out the "almost rent free" claim, saying it was an opinion and not a statement that could be proven true or false.
The second claim was derived from a list compiled by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The watchdog organization named three senators among its "20 most corrupt members of Congress," and gave Coleman and three other House members a "dishonorable mention," in Coleman's case citing the controversy over his lease.
Coleman officials noted that CREW never actually named him "the fourth most corrupt senator," and CREW director Melanie Sloan herself called the Franken claim an exaggeration.
But in her ruling, Neilson said state law doesn't stop campaigns from making inferences based on fact. Because the Franken ads captured the "gist" of Coleman's place on the CREW list, there was no probable cause to believe the DFLer broke the law, she concluded.
"Hearing that Senator Coleman is the 'fourth most corrupt senator' according to CREW produces essentially the same effect on the mind ... as hearing that he is one of only four senators named in the CREW report on congressional corruption," Neilson wrote.
Franken spokesman Andy Barr called the complaint "ridiculous."
Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan said that while the campaign respected Neilson's decision, it believes that "Al Franken and his campaign knowingly made false statements about Senator Coleman. We will continue to review all of our options as we move forward."
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455