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Steamy Attack Ad Meets Chilly Reception

National Republican Congressional Committee-sponsored attack ad against Democratic candiate for Congress Michael Arcuri accusing him of billing a phone sex charge to Oneida County taxpayers.
NRCC/WTVH-TV
The National Republican Congressional Committee is being criticized by one of their own candidates for a sensational attack ad it produced for a congressional race in New York State.

Democratic congressional candidate Michael Arcuri is accused in the ad of billing taxpayers for a call to a phone sex line placed while he was in a hotel. The ad shows Arcuri leering at the silhouette of a dancing woman who says, "Hi, sexy. You've reached the live, one-on-one fantasy line."

But Arcuri's campaign released records showing the call made two years ago from his New York City hotel room to 800-457-8462 — a sex line — was followed the next minute by a call to 518-457-8462, the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Arcuri, the district attorney in Oneida County, said the ad was "clearly libelous" and threatened to file a lawsuit. Even his GOP opponent, state Sen. Ray Meier, described it as "way over the line."

At least seven television stations in Syracuse, Utica and Binghamton refused to run the ad, Arcuri said.

The NRCC stood by the 30-second message. Spokesman Ed Patru insisted it was "totally true" and said candidate Meier was not consulted.

"I think they have a low regard for the American electorate," Robert McClure, professor of political science and public affairs at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, told CBS's Syracuse affiliate WTVH-TV. "But I also think they have the evidence that these kinds of negative smear campaigns work."

The two candidates — who say they are friends — are running to fill the seat left open by the retirement of Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert. Political analysts have said the race is among the nation's most competitive.

Arcuri said he had "never seen such an unfair commercial. I have a 12-year-old daughter. She's going to have to go to school and hear other kids talk about this."

Earlier in the week, both candidates said they were disappointed by the attack ads produced and funded by their national party committees. They said campaign-finance laws prevent them from screening the commercials.

"I think the voters in this congressional district – and in congressional districts across the state and across the country – are quite frankly sick of this kind of advertising and smear campaigns, Democratic Party chair William Morris told WTVBH-TV.

"We don't agree with any of it," Republican Party chair Mark Scheidelman told WTVH-TV. "And we would hope that both parties would stop it and we'd start talking about the issues."

One voter, Rosemarie Paladino of Utica, said she found such negative advertising so distasteful that she was tempted to avoid voting.

"But then I said, 'Wait a minute. I've got to exercise my right."'

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.