Voters, Don't Fall For These Over-the-Top Attack Ads

How to cut through all this campaign attack ad silliness


MATT DIETRICH: Madeleine, I am in a quandary. I can't decide whether my vote for state representative should go to the candidate who wants to end Social Security and Medicare or the one who is part of a cabal that pays millions of dollars to child sex offenders. I seek your guidance.

MADELEINE DOUBEK: Hmmm, these state representative races have become so complicated, haven't they? So if you take those claims at literal face value, you can vote for someone connected to someone who abuses the next generation or you can vote for someone who will ruin your own old age. Hey, actually, that pretty much is a metaphor for the predicament we all have in Illinois.

MATT: In the spirit of full disclosure, I must mention that, as a resident of the 99th House District, neither of my choices for state rep -- Republican incumbent Sara Wojcicki Jiminez and Democratic challenger Tony DelGiorno -- have so far been tagged with the accusations above. I was speaking metaphorically for the thousands of Illinois voters in other districts whose mailboxes have been stuffed with campaign materials designed by political party campaign committees making those very claims.

MADELEINE: Ahhh, well then, that's a different can of worms. The sex offender stuff is because the Dems had someone among them, former state Rep. Keith Farnham of Elgin, caught with child porn, right? That's why people in my 55th District got letters from state Rep. Marty Moylan mentioning Republican former U.S. House Speaker Denny Hastert. It invited us to sign a petition pushing for passage of a law to remove the statute of limitations for child sex offenders. Funny, I'd have figured if the super majority Dems were so concerned, they'd have made that the law already. So, what do you suppose is behind the Social Security and Medicare silliness?

MATT: Well, Reboot staffer Kevin Hoffman answered that question with his PolitiFact Illinois fact-check of an accusation by Democratic state Rep. Kate Cloonen of Kankakee that her opponent wanted to "take away" Social Security and Medicare. There wasn't a shred of truth to it and it earned Cloonen the dreaded "Pants on Fire" rating.

But the closest thing to an answer about the origin of the anti-Social Security theme -- which has been used against various Republican legislative candidates -- came from Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan. He told Bernard Schoenburg of The State Journal-Register that the charge was fair game for all Republican candidates because they're affiliated with the Republican Party.

MADELEINE: Well then, I guess anything is fair game, right? So, Matt, when you run for state representative, I'm just going to tell people you once were in a room with State Rep. Keith Farnham and you're bankrupting our nation because you plan to collect Social Security.

MATT: I guess that would be fair game, though I'm sure you'd have no trouble finding better oppo research on me. I should also mention that the official Republican Party Platform has sections on "saving" Social Security and "preserving" Medicare, but nary a word about taking them away. And while the term "take away" does not appear in the GOP platform, the words "take" and "away" appear individually 38 and 9 times, respectively. So maybe Mr. Brown has a point.

MADELEINE: Wow. And how many times do the party platforms say "sex" and "offender?" Seriously, though, what advice do you have for the poor, beleaguered voters of Illinois who have to survive this campaign ordeal?

MATT: I'd say a good rule of thumb is to disregard the extreme attack campaigns -- let's stipulate that no candidate in this cycle supports sex offenders or wants to take away Grandma's Social Security and Medicare. Check the return addresses on those mailers and you'll probably find that the most outrageous attacks come not from the candidates themselves but from their party organizations or some outside group.

As a longtime newspaper reporter -- and writer of many, many candidate endorsements -- I still believe that your best source of information about your candidates will come from your local paper and local candidate forums. And in this day and age, any credible candidate should have a decent website and social media presence. Those can give you a better picture of the candidate in his/her own words.

I highly recommend checking the Illinois Sunshine database and doing a search on your local candidates. See where their money is coming from and see if there are outside groups -- Super PACs -- working for against them.

MADELEINE: Matt, you almost had me. I was just about to nominate you for public office and sainthood, but you forgot to mention that for statewide races, you can also count on us at Reboot Illinois. We've got our scorecards where you can compare candidates side-by-side and with summaries and quotes. We've got our questionnaire with the Better Government Association where the candidates wrote long-answer essays and, best of all, we've got our fact checks in our role as PolitiFact Illinois, the exclusive Illinois partner of Pulitzer Prize winning PolitiFact. There's some help for for you, voters. And that's a campaign message you can believe!