Even though he's not up for re-election until 2010, Gov. Chet Culver has become the focus of political attack ads that Democratic Party officials claimed Tuesday may be illegal.
The advertisements, paid for by a group called the Iowa Future Fund, prompted Democrats to file a complaint with the state ethics board while they scramble to figure out who is behind the message.
"It's not just misleading, it may be illegally funded and is certainly blatantly and irresponsibly false," said Scott Brennan, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party.
Lt. Gov. Patty Judge called the 30-second television ad, which began airing Sunday, "blatantly inaccurate." She said Democrats are having a difficult time tracking down who's behind the ads.
"It appears from our research that this is one more of those shadowy out-of-state deals where money is coming in to Iowa from the East Coast to try to present something that isn't very factual about our governor," she said. "I think it really represents the worst in Iowa politics."
The Iowa Democratic Party said it can't find any state or federal disclosure documents for the group, prompting the party to ask local broadcasters to stop running the television ad over concerns it may be violating campaign finance laws. The party said a similar radio ad should also be pulled off the air.
At issue is whether the ads advocate for or against a candidate - a threshold that may have to be determined by the Iowa Campaign and Ethics Disclosure Board. The Iowa Democratic Party filed a complaint with the board requesting it to investigate the group.
"We need an expedited ruling and an investigation before this group puts out another one of these false ads," Brennan said.
Charles Smithson, executive director of the ethics board, said the panel has been notified and is waiting for the members to get together to review the ad. He said federal officials could also become involved depending on what type of group the Iowa Future Fund turns out to be - whether a political action committee or a 527 influence group with tax exempt status.
"It's always difficult to find out who is behind an anonymous ad," he said.
Attempts by The Associated Press to reach the Iowa Future Fund by e-mail were unsuccessful. There was no response to a telephone message left for a woman listed as the president of the group on forms used to purchase the ad times from central Iowa radio and television stations.
Jeff Link, an Iowa Democratic consultant, said there eventually has to be a paper trail.
"I think the big question is who's spending all this money and why aren't they publicly disclosing who they are and what their interest is?" he asked.
Link speculated that the group's backers could be known within a week.
Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for the Iowa Republican Party, said he didn't know anything about the group, but added, "I think the issues remain intact and are true."
"Democrats need to defend, not deflect, their out of control excesses at the Statehouse," he said.
The Iowa Future Fund also posted the television ad on YouTube.com, where the group calls itself "a network of concerned citizens that are interested in the democratic process."
"The Iowa Future Fund has been established primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the citizens of the United States by educating the citizens of Iowa about public policy issues affecting the state of Iowa," the group states on the video-sharing Web site.
In the television ad, the group attacks Culver, saying he has increased the state budget by 20 percent and wants to raise taxes and fees by $100 million.