Roy Moore scandal divides state GOP

Local News

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — A wave of sexual harassment allegations sweeping across the nation has prompted politicians in both major parties to speak out either in defense or condemnation of candidates and elected officials accused of misconduct. 

Eight women have come forward to accuse Alabama Republican Roy Moore of inappropriate sexual behavior, including one woman who claims Moore molested her when she was 14 years old. Moore, who is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate, denies the charges and dismisses the reports as “dirty politics,” what he sees as a political hatchet job aimed at keeping him out of Congress. 

Moore faces off against Democrat Doug Jones in a special election set for December 12th in a race that threatens to weaken an already fragile Republican Senate majority.

Even as a chorus of Congressional Republicans are calling on Moore to step aside, the Illinois GOP is torn over whether or not U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore is fit for elected office. 

“I agree with those who have called for Roy Moore to step aside and not run for Senate,” Governor Bruce Rauner said on Tuesday, adding, “I urge him to step aside and let another candidate emerge.”

In distancing himself from Moore, Rauner appeared to have broken away from one of his own top political donors in packaging magnate Dick Uihlein. Campaign finance records show the Lake Forest businessman donated $100,000 to a super PAC running pro-Moore advertisements. Documents appear to show Uihlein gave his most recent donation after the first women came forward to accuse Moore of rape and molestation. The contributions were first reported by the Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay. 

The Democratic Governors Association, a national group intent on unseating Rauner in next year’s election, pounced on Uihlein’s financial ties to the governor. “Bruce Rauner must disavow the support of Richard Uihlein and return all donations received from him,” DGA Communications Director Sam Salustro wrote in a press release. “The accusations of child predation against Roy Moore are abhorrent, and Rauner must disavow his relationship with anyone who supports Moore, including his mega donor allies.” 

Rauner ignored questions about fractures in his party and would not say if he intends to return the $2.6 million Uihlein gave to his own 2014 election campaign. 

Two weeks ago, the Illinois Republican Party, which is primarily funded by Rauner, called on Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth to “put their money where their mouth is and immediately give away the dirty money they’ve received from Al Franken.” A Los Angeles news anchor accused the senator from Minnesota of groping her and forcibly kissing her without her consent in 2006. Franken returned to work after issuing an apology, but says he has no plans to step down. Durbin and Duckworth issued separate statements condemning Franken’s actions, but referred the behavior to the scrutiny of the Ethics Committee. 

Tuesday, the ILGOP turned its fire toward Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, who in 2008 gave $1,000 to Franken’s campaign. Pritzker and his wife have given another $382,800 to Democratic groups in Minnesota throughout Franken’s political career. 

In a statement, ILGOP spokesman Aaron DeGroot said, “J.B. Pritzker has given tens of thousands of dollars to organizations that support Al Franken. Pritzker even wrote a $1,000 campaign check to Franken himself. It’s time for Pritzker to weigh in. Does he believe the sexual assault allegations against Al Franken, and if so, should Al Franken resign his U.S. Senate seat?” 

Pritzker campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen, who occasionally jousts with current and former ILGOP communications staff on Twitter, shot back. “J.B. believes public officials should be held to the same or higher standards as everyone else and whether Democrat or Republican, public officials should be held accountable for their actions. J.B. believes Al Franken, John Conyers, and for that matter Donald Trump should resign from office.” 

Perhaps in a twist of irony, conservative radio host and political operative Dan Proft came to Pritzker’s defense, although it was accompanied with a not-so-subtle jab at the billionaire’s own financial ties to disgraced politicians. “Would anyone argue that J.B. Pritzker shouldn’t be able to donate to himself because he gave six figure donations to Blago? Some are making fallacious arguments of this sort,” Proft wrote in apparent condemnation of the calls for partisans to return political donations.

“There is a qualitative difference between returning donations from a corrupt or felonious donor (e.g. Blago, George Ryan) as distinguished from anyone who ever gave money to such a person/pol,” Proft wrote. “It is mere virtue-signaling,” he added, “a phrase that is property understood to be synonymous with the absence of virtue.”  

For Proft to signal such a degree of virtue, however absent, it would require him to return Uihlein’s $8.57 million in contributions to his super PAC ‘Liberty Principles,’ including a $2 million gift issued in September 2017. 

Since 2008, Uihlein has also steered at least $8,957,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute, according to tax filing documents for his family foundation. Since 2014, Uihlein chipped in an additional $800,000 to the Liberty Justice Center, IPI’s legal arm, and another $50,000 to the anti-union State Policy Network, bringing his total contributions to the conservative think tank and its affiliates to over $9.8 million. The Illinois Policy Institute did not return calls seeking comment on this story. 

Uihlein has also been the top individual donor to Rep. Jeanne Ives’ (R-Wheaton) political career so far. At a ‘Make America Great Again’ rally in Rockford last week, Ives refused to comment on Moore’s conduct.

“I’m not going to answer that question because I’m not an Alabaman. I’m going to let Alabamans decide that,” she said. Pressed for an answer on whether or not Moore’s conduct was disqualifying for a seat in the Senate, she responded, “So? I comment on state issues. As far as I’m concerned, the Alabama folks know the guy better and they can make the decision. I’m not going to weigh in on that race.” 

Ives made her remarks on the same day President Donald Trump urged voters to stick with Moore by lashing out at his opponent, saying, “We don’t need a liberal person in [the U.S. Senate].” Ives posted a picture online that same day with one of her supporters who defended Moore as “a devout man being treated unjustly” in a letter to his local newspaper. 

Trump’s win-at-all-costs mentality was shared by dozens of his supporters who talked openly about their support for Moore at last week’s rally. 

“Roy Moore is walking directly towards the fire and God bless him,” said Paul Nehlen, a Wisconsin Republican who is mounting his second campaign against House Speaker Paul Ryan in the Badger State’s First Congressional District. Nehlen set up a table at the Rockford event, which is just minutes from his district, and persuaded anxious voters that Moore was innocent of the charges brought by eight women. 

“If they want to get their fifteen minutes of fame, that’s what they’re doing,” Nehlen said of Moore’s accusers. “Roy Moore is a righteous Christian man and he is being put upon by people in media around the country. I’m going to be right by his side on December 12th when he wins the election. I’m going to be cheering him to victory.” 

Nehlen’s district borders Illinois’ northern boundary and is home to Uihlein’s corporate headquarters, a packaging and appliances company which relocated just across state lines in 2008. 

Uihlein’s family foundation also gave $325,000 to Turning Point USA, a conservative campus activism group headed up by Wheeling native Charlie Kirk. The Ed Uihlein Family Foundation also made annual contributions to Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum Foundation and Legal Defense Fund. Both groups were present at last week’s ‘Make America Great Again’ rally. 

Kirk agreed with portions of Nehlen’s remarks, saying, “Despite the truth or untruth of the allegations, this was a liberal hit job against Roy Moore. They held the story until after the primary. They had the story waiting for months, and then they said we’re going to hit him when there’s no other option.

“That’s not an honest way to do journalism,” Kirk said. “That’s a political hit job done by the Washington Post who has an agenda to try to destabilize this president.” 

Kirk made those comments before a conservative undercover plot to discredit the Post’s reporting on Moore backfired, but he still concluded the former Alabama Chief Justice should leave the race.  

“I think he should drop out and I’ve said that,” Kirk said, suggesting Alabama’s Republican Governor Kay Ivey should move the election back and allow time for an alternative candidate to enter the race to compete for Attorney General Jeff Session’s vacant Senate seat. 

Kirk supported Rauner’s primary and general election campaigns in 2014, and in turn, Rauner donated $150,000 to his campus activism group. 

“Bruce is someone who has treated myself pretty well over the last couple of years,” Kirk said. But he won’t be supporting him in this primary race against Ives. 

“I’ve told his team pretty clearly [that I] haven’t been exactly excited about what’s happened,” Kirk said in response to the governor’s signature on a bill to expand taxpayer funded abortion for women on Medicaid or state employee health insurance and another bill to provide protections to undocumented immigrants. 

“It’s going to be a rougher primary than I think people realize,” Kirk said. “The grassroots are angry. And they should be.” 

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