A series of television ads from Oberweis Dairy, North Aurora, Ill., have been criticized by some as campaign ads in disguise. Jim Oberweis, chairman of the company that processes milk for home delivery and operates a chain of upscale ice cream shops, formally launched his second Illinois bid for U.S. Senate on July 17. On that same day, a Democratic group accused him of violating federal election law. Oberweis appears in the ads, which are airing in the Chicago area. They are expected to run later in some parts of downstate, he said.

Oberweis, 57, unsuccessfully sought the 2002 GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. Stacey Zolt, a spokeswoman for the Democratic committee, said the ads run afoul of federal campaign finance law, which prohibits corporations from making contributions or expenditures in connection with federal elections.

"The timing of this ad buy just screams dirty politics," she said, adding that the 76-year-old dairy company never before ran a television ad. "I think that is a huge (public relations) stunt, and an illegal one at that."

Oberweis, however, said he had been encouraging the dairy's management team to run television ads for five years, but those officials "felt we were not yet at the critical mass."

The TV ads are "nothing political in any way," Oberweis said, describing one that features a high-school-age couple. "I'm in the background saying something about 'Love comes in unusual ways. You never know when or how it's going to happen. But sometimes, it's just the ice cream."'