Fact or Fiction 2018: Attack Ads

Local News

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — As the March 20th primary contest nears, voters can expect to a see an increase in negative campaign ads, mailers, emails — even digital ads on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. But beware: those ads rarely tell the whole story.

Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker has sharpened his attacks against his rivals Daniel Biss, a state senator from Evanston, and to a lesser degree, Chris Kennedy, a businessman from Kenilworth.

Pritzker vs. Kennedy

Pritzker has been mostly reluctant to attack Kennedy head on, instead dispatching surrogates to smear him, or occasionally sniping from the safe distance of an email blast. One reads, “Kennedy has attacked public schools in Illinois” and that “Chris Kennedy ‘applauded’ Bruce Rauner for creating a crisis for public education.”

In fact, Kennedy pointed to low SAT scores in a downstate school district to buttress his calls for increased state funding. Kennedy’s comments “applauding” Rauner were praise for his criticism of Madigan and Pritzker, and had nothing at all to do with a “public education crisis.”

Both attacks from the Pritzker campaign intentionally distort Kennedy’s words, going so far as to put words in his mouth, an attempt to mislead voters.

We rate both attacks false.

Pritzker vs. Biss

Pritzker’s campaign is spending more time and money attacking Biss for votes on pension reform, an attempt to expand charter schools, and for running House Speaker Michael Madigan’s 2016 anti-Rauner super PAC called Leading Illinois For Tomorrow (LIFT).

Taken at face value, those claims are true. But Pritzker’s attack ads omit his own public and financial support for all three of those efforts.

Pritzker donated a total of $900,000 to the Madigan-Biss PAC. He and his wife gave $20,000 to We Mean Business, a political action committee formed to pass the same pension reform plan Biss supported. In 2014, a Washington D.C. school supported by Pritzker and his nonprofit group applied to become a charter school. The Pritzker campaign has ignored direct questions about how much money the Foundation may have given to charter schools. 

In a fact check, WCIA rated Pritzker’s attacks against Biss intellectually dishonest.  

Biss vs. Kennedy and Pritzker

At a Democratic primary forum in Carbondale, Biss called it “astonishing that in the era of Donald Trump, two candidates on this state, Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker will not release their full tax returns. I think it weakens the Democratic party and our effort to call Donald Trump out, and it leaves us totally unsure what the financial interests of these candidates are.” 

We rate this claim true. 

Biss vs. Pritzker

Senator Biss has positioned himself as the “middle class governor,” peppering Pritzker with attacks targeting his inherited wealth and the use of offshore accounts to move money into his tax-free charities. In responding to a story first reported by WCIA, Biss accused Pritzker of “repeated tax schemes [that] don’t just cheat the state — they cheat middle-class and working families who have to make up for his tax evasion with higher taxes and reduced services.” 

Pritzker’s campaign handed over a signed letter from an anonymous trustee which claimed he had in fact paid capital gains taxes on the sale of his Hyatt stock. Biss later walked back part of the the attacks in his campaign email, saying, “the truth is, we can’t really get to the bottom of it.” 

Without having all of the available evidence, we rate this claim potentially false and presumptuous. 

Kennedy vs. Pritzker

Democrat Chris Kennedy launches a different style of political attacks. He’s called Pritzker a “mean person,” “unfit for elected office,” and “the poster child for corruption in Illinois.” These attacks are Kennedy’s own moral or ethical judgments, and while they are in response to Pritzker’s recorded conversations with jailed ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, they are subjective in nature and near impossible to include in a traditional fact check. 

A core tenet of Kennedy’s campaign has been to call the Cook County Property Tax Assessment a “violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act” because it gives tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of the poor, often minority communities. He has linked Pritzker to that “cabal,” as he calls it, in part because of Pritzker’s scheme to pull toilets from the Gold Coast mansion he bought next door to his primary residence. In so doing, Pritzker was able to claim the mansion was uninhabitable, slashing his property tax bill by $230,000.

However, as Kennedy’s rivals point out, his own development company hired politically connected lawyers to seek appeals from the very same assessment system he now calls corrupt. While Kennedy insists his appeals were necessary due to the evolving stages of the property from a parking lot to a garage to a high rise condominium, his stakeout on the moral high ground starts to give way when his own record comes to light. 

We rate his claims subjective and borderline hypocritical. 

Biss vs. Kennedy 

Senator Biss staged a mini-press conference right outside Kennedy’s Wolf Point high rise on the banks of the Chicago River to attack Kennedy, who he claimed “skirts the rules by using his connections to powerful attorneys to avoid affordable housing requirements.” 

As first pointed out by Politifact and the Better Government Association, no such rules exist for that property. 

At best, we rate the attack from Biss uninformed. At worst, it’s dishonest. 

Ives vs. Rauner

In the Republican primary, we have a much smaller sample size. Representative Jeanne Ives only officially entered the race in December, but she jolted her opponent with a shock-and-awe ad in an admitted attempt to get attention from the media and the public. 

In an inflammatory attack ad, a large male actor wearing a red dress says, “Thank you [Governor Rauner] for signing legislation that lets me use the girl’s bathroom.”  

Except that’s not even remotely true. Illinois law has already allowed transgender individuals to seek changes to the gender designations on their birth certificates for over 50 years. Any legislator or voter who reads the text of the law will see in plain language that Rauner’s signature on House Bill 1785 only updates the medical language and requirements on that half-century old piece of legislation. The bill says nothing about bathroom access in schools or anywhere else. Ives and her political advisors have tried to argue the bill could lay the groundwork for a new state law at some point in the future, but that bill does not yet exist and without a crystal ball, we cannot make the same leap. 

We rate the Ives attack ad intentionally incendiary and false. 

Rauner vs. Ives

It’s the oldest trick in the book. When you don’t want to directly engage your primary challengers, just paint them as puppets of your own political arch nemesis. 

For months, incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner completely ignored Ives, then dissed her as an “unelectable” “fringe” candidate. 

While Rauner doesn’t have the stomach to debate Ives toe-to-toe — or perhaps his strategists don’t see the upside in giving her a platform to inflict further damage to his conservative credentials — the campaign has started running attack ads against Ives suggesting she “might just be Mike Madigan’s favorite Republican.” 

This scare-tactic line is so outrageous, it has drawn laughs, scorn, even bewilderment from Ives’ colleagues in the House who are well aware of her far-right policy stances and her well-documented political opposition to Madigan. In fact, during Rauner’s term, Ives locked arms with him and the Republican caucus to block a number of key votes. 

We rate Rauner’s make believe attack ad a disingenuous dodge. 

Democratic primary candidates Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman and Robert Marshall have not yet run any attack ads and are each polling consistently in the low single digits. 

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