Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

The art of going negative in Illinois

Alexi Giannoulias campaign ad "My Left Foot"

In the Illinois Senate race between Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and five-term Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, negative attacks have been flying from the get-go.

The intensity and frequency of those attacks has only increased as the election moves into the home stretch.

We checked out claims in the latest ads from each.

From the Giannoulias campaign, we checked an ad titled "My Left Foot," which makes three quick claims:

"Mark Kirk: Lied about going to war. Opposed middle-class tax cuts. And said unemployment's not that big an issue."

The ad then features a parade of man-on-the-street comments disparaging Kirk, ending with a woman who says of Kirk, "I would not trust him with my left shoe." So that's how the ad got its name.

We looked into each of the claims separately.

Kirk has repeatedly misspoken about his military record, but the ad prominently features a citation to a Newsweek article as backing for the claim that Kirk "lied about going to war." The story, however, doesn't say Kirk lied about going to war. Rather, it says Kirk lied about being the Intelligence Officer of the Year.

With regard to the claim that Kirk opposed middle-class tax cuts, the fine print in the ad refers to  "Vote 70, Feb. 13, 2009." What is Vote 70 in the 111th Congress? The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, aka the economic stimulus package. The stimulus' Making Work Pay provision did provide a middle class tax cut to some 110 million Americans. But Making Work Pay accounted for about $116 billion of the $787 billion stimulus, and Kirk has said that he opposed the stimulus "because it wasted money on big government spending programs."

Lastly, the claim that Kirk said unemployment's not that big an issue comes from a story in Roll Call in June 2008, when the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent nationally and in Kirk's district. The story was about Republican opposition to a plan to extend unemployment benefits and quoted Kirk saying unemployment was not a big issue in his district.

Overall, we gave the ad a Barely True rating.

We also looked at an ad from the Kirk campaign called  "You must be kidding":

The ad revisited a longstanding attack on Giannoulias, claiming that as senior loan officer at his family's bank he, "lent $20 million to convicted felons and mobsters." We've visited similar claims in the past.

This time, we turned our attention to a claim in the ad that as state treasurer, Giannoulias "lost $73 million in our kids' college savings." One of the funds in the state's college savings plan did lose $73 million in 2008, and we sifted though some of the evidence for and against Giannoulias culpability and rated the ad's claim Half True.