JEFFERSON CITY — Republican Michael Gibbons and Democrat Chris Koster were colleagues before they were opponents for Missouri's attorney general seat. At times during the campaign, both senators have described each other as "friends."
But in the past week, a Gibbons television ad has accused Koster of taking money from the wife of a "mob frontman," while Koster has accused Gibbons of coddling Medicaid cheats.
In the latest twist in the television back-and-forth between the two former colleagues, Gibbons is calling out the Koster campaign for including what he called factual inaccuracies in its most recent statewide ad that was released Thursday.
The Gibbons campaign has taken issue with the statement in the ad that Gibbons "supported release for the killer of a young girl." The defendant in question, Jack Rapheld, was convicted of murder in St. Louis County in 1977 for the murder of Judith Ann Atchison.
Gibbons said he had not supported clemency in this case.
"It's factually false. We're calling on him to pull off the ad. If it's not pulled off, we will follow our legal remedies," Gibbons said.
On Friday, the Koster campaign released a statement that stood by the latest ad, and their assertions that Gibbons had supported clemency in this particular case. The statement, as well as the ad itself, cited reports from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the murder, to support the claims made in the ad.
"We absolutely will continue to present the clear choice in this race to Missouri voters," Kanner said in the e-mailed statement.
Gibbons did not specify what type of legal action he would pursue against the Koster campaign if they failed to remove the ad.
Caleb Jones, spokesman for the Gibbons campaign, said he hadn't had time to look at the other areas of the ad.
"Right now, we want to deal with the factual lies," he said, referring to the clemency claim.
The ad is one in a series of negative advertisements to come out of the attorney general's campaign in the past two weeks.
Experts say going negative is a way to get attention in the closing weeks of a campaign and drive votes away from an opponent.
"To get the public's attention, you need a message that is sharper, more focused and more resonant than would have been necessary six months ago," said Marvin Overby, a MU professor of political science.
Another one of the newest ads, released by the Gibbons campaign, includes a series of attacks at Koster. Along with other accusations, the ad accuses Koster of writing bad checks and failing to pay his taxes more than 10 years ago.
"The people of Missouri need to know that they're going to elect an attorney general with integrity and honesty," Jones said.
According to the Boone County Recorder of Deeds, a tax lien was filed against Koster in January 1992, because he owed $1,640 in federal taxes. A spokesman for the Koster campaign said the tax liens were filed in error because of clerical mistakes made when Koster was an intern at the Missouri attorney general's office during law school.
The Koster campaign has dismissed Gibbons' campaign's tactics as partisan and lacking the "integrity or the commitment to the trust" to hold the office of attorney general.
"You have a candidate for attorney general making gross distortions of the facts, in some cases outright lies, and it is beneath the office both these candidates seek," Kanner said. "People deserve a prosecutor in the attorney general's office, not a typical politician."
The ad also says that "as a county prosecutor, (Koster) took contributions from the wife of an FBI-identified frontman for the Gambino crime family."
These accusations grew out of a campaign contribution that Rebecca Matzdorff made to the Koster campaign more than five years ago. Kenneth Matzdorff, who shares the same address as Rebecca Matzdorff, was CEO of Cass County Telephone Co. Matzdorff was also vice president of Louisiana-based CenturyTel Inc.
Rebecca Matzdorff wrote a $575 check to Koster's state Senate campaign committee in September 2003. Two years later, Kenneth Matzdorff pled guilty to a role in a consumer fraud scheme, linked to the Gambino crime family.
Rebecca and Kenneth Matzdorff have donated extensively to statewide Republican campaigns since 2002, according to contribution records filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, including donations to Gov. Matt Blunt's campaign accounts.
Kanner called the accusations in the statewide ad a "ridiculous lie," and an intentional attempt to connect Koster with organized crime. Kanner did not deny that Koster received the donation from "the wife of a businessman in the neighborhood."
But he said the Gibbons' campaign used this singular contribution as an attempt to say that Koster knowingly accepted funds linked to organized crime, a claim Kanner disputes.
Kanner also noted that, prior to this campaign, Gibbons donated money toward Koster's campaigns more than once. According to the Missouri Ethics Commission's contribution records, Gibbons donated $1,225 toward Koster's state Senate campaign during 2004 — before Koster switched political parties from Republican to Democrat.
During the Democratic primary, Rebecca Bowman Nassikas, Koster's former wife donated money to both Jeff Harris and Margaret Donnelly's campaigns for the democratic nominee for attorney general.
Since Koster has become the nominee, she has donated more than $200,000 to a political committee that then used the money for ads that slammed Koster's record during the general election campaign.
The Koster campaign has repeatedly declined to comment about Rebecca Bowman Nassikas' political contributions.