Senator Don Nickles weighs in on ad fuss

Thursday, September 30th 2004, 5:50 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Republican Sen. Don Nickles defense of GOP Senate candidate Tom Coburn's vote against a 1999 supplemental funding bill that contained $900 million in federal disaster relief has been criticized by Democrats who say Nickles is abusing Senate resources.

A new television ad by Democratic Senate candidate Brad Carson said Coburn's vote amounted to Coburn ``turning his back'' on victims of the May 3, 1999, killer tornadoes that raked Oklahoma.

Nickles, in a news release on his Senate letterhead, said he also voted against the measure, which passed the Senate, 64-36. Nickles called it a $15 billion ``monstrosity'' and an attempt to ``use our tragedy as an excuse to waste billions of taxpayer dollars.''

The Carson ad pointed to support for the bill from four members of Oklahoma's then all-Republican House delegation. Supporters included J.C. Watts and Wes Watkins, who said the disaster funds were needed.

The $900 million went to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which coordinated the Oklahoma tornado relief effort.

Coburn and Carson are running for the Senate seat Nickles is giving up after 24 years.

Nickles' support of Coburn came under fire Wednesday afternoon when members of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee criticized him for putting out campaign-related news releases on letterhead paid for by tax payers.

``It's inappropriate, unethical and potentially illegal,'' said committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse.

Woodhouse said Nickles' support was an attempt by Oklahoma Republicans to bolster the Coburn campaign.

``Senator Nickles knows better than to use taxpayer dollars and official resources to do it,'' Woodhouse said.

Senate rules cite federal law which says official funds are to be used only for the purposes for which they are appropriated.

``It is thus inappropriate to use any official resources to conduct campaign or political activities,'' the Senate Manual states.

After being asked whether his news releases were allowed under Senate rules, Nickles' office issued a statement saying a release highlighting the National Federation of Independent Business' endorsement of Coburn was not within Senate rules.

``Although I'm pleased to see the NFIB recognize Tom Coburn's support of small business, the issuance of the press release from my office dealing with the NFIB endorsement was a mistake on our part,'' Nickles stated.

Nickles said the press release defending Coburn's vote on tornado relief aid is allowed under Senate rules, because it shows that Nickles and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., voted the same way, something that's not mentioned in the campaign ad.

``I believe it's important to defend the facts, and it's important to defend my record, Senator Inhofe's record and Tom Coburn's record,'' he said.