The Missouri Republican Party convened a conference call of the state's media this past week to express their political outrage about a coffee pot shared by a Senate campaign manager and a union director.
The owners of the presumed coffee pot? Mindy and Jeff Mazur.
She manages the campaign of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Robin Carnahan. In October, he will be the new executive director of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Council 72.
AFSCME, as the union is known, already has spent nearly $1 million airing ads against Carnahan's opponent, Republican Roy Blunt, the Republican Party said. Federal law prohibits coordination between candidates and independent groups supporting their campaigns.
Just imagine the Mazur household, said Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith.
"Maybe you would indicate over a cup of coffee in the morning that AFSCME is going to go up with a hard-hitting attack radio ad - as they have prior to this - and your companion over coffee that morning would say: "Really?' And that would cause you not to run your radio until those radio ads have finished," Smith said. "It's a clear violation if that collaboration occurs."
But the hypothetical home coffee conversation overlooks an important point, said John Noonan, the political director for AFSCME Council 72.
As executive director of Council 72, Jeff Mazur's job will be to manage union operations and provide services to its members - not to decide political expenditures, Noonan said. In fact, decisions about political ads are made by union officials in Washington, D.C., who are "sequestered behind a legal and communications firewall" from other union staff in Missouri, he said.
The Republican outrage over the shared coffee pot is the just the latest example of how Missouri's U.S. Senate campaign has become increasingly personal in the past few weeks. Carnahan, the secretary of state, has based her campaign on the assertion that Blunt is a corrupt congressman. Blunt has called her a liar. But now, the Democrats and Republicans also are bashing the candidates' families - and those of their campaign staff.
The family attack was started by Democrats.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ran a TV ad targeting Blunt's wife, Abigail, and their life together. It described her as "a powerful tobacco lobbyist" - she once did lobby for Philip Morris tobacco but no longer does - and accused them of "building a new million home in D.C's best neighborhood," though the property they own there remains vacant and is for sale.
The DSCC's most recent ad accuses Blunt of misusing his position for the benefit of his family. More specifically, it says he inserted into legislation "special favors for companies his family lobbied for."
Carnahan has been running a similar ad. It shows a clip from a Fox News Network interview with Blunt in which a reporter says to him: "In 2002, you tried to insert language into the homeland security act to help Philip Morris tobacco while you were dating that company's lobbyist."
The provision to which the ad refers ultimately was removed before the bill passed.
Before targeting Carnahan's campaign manager and her husband, the Missouri Republican Party had seized upon a recent White House reporting listing a $107 million stimulus grant in lieu of tax credits for the Lost Creek Wind Farm in northwest Missouri. The company that developed the wind-energy project is led by Tom Carnahan - the brother of both Robin Carnahan and Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, of St. Louis.
The Carnahans have denied any role in securing money for their brother's firm. His company was one of more than a thousand that qualified for the renewable energy incentives, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Why do politicians and political parties criticize not only each other but also each other's spouses and siblings?
The website wisegeek.com promotes itself as providing "clear answers for common questions."
It's answer to the question "What is political mudslinging" includes the following explanation:
"Many candidates attack not only each other's issues, but also attack each other on a very personal level. Worse yet, at times political mudslinging may also include members of a candidate's family. Outright accusations are rarely necessary to achieve the goal of creating scandal. One may simply use innuendo or hyperbole as forms of political mudslinging. In other words, one does not have to prove that the other candidate is corrupt or dishonest; he or she only needs to plant that seed."