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PolitiFact Illinois can check facts, can't make politicians listen
Matt Dietrich
By Matt Dietrich September 22, 2016

On Sept. 15, a fact check I researched and wrote for PolitiFact Illinois gave a "Mostly True" rating to Tammy Duckworth's statement that Mark Kirk had embellished his military record "at least 10 times."

One of the 10 incidents on which the statement was based, I found, had been updated since its initial publication and should not have been included on the list. Nine out of 10 ain't bad, but it's also not "at least 10."

A few weeks earlier, I had checked a statement by Gov. Bruce Rauner in which he said Democrats "are cutting our school funding. Four times in the last 10 years before we came into office." This statement earned a "Mostly False" rating because state school funding -- the part controlled by Democrats in the years in question -- had gone up slightly. Overall funding had declined not because Democrats cut it, but because federal stimulus money went away.

Fast-forward to Monday morning, Sept. 19. A new TV ad by Mark Kirk's campaign featured the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Duckworth accusing her of covering up abuse of veterans while serving as director of veterans affairs to protect then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

How did the Duckworth campaign respond? It issued a statement that included the line, "Senator Kirk, on the other hand, has lied at least ten times about his own military record."

As that news was breaking, I was attending a press conference in which Gov. Bruce Rauner answered a question about changing the system by which the state funds schools. Rauner said this was a major concern because "four times in the prior 10 years to me becoming governor the Legislature cut school funding. It's... atrocious what we've done to our public schools."

We didn't partner with PolitiFact because we expected politicians to heed our rulings as gospel and change their messages -- though we'd like them to consider it. The fact-checking we do is intended to give citizens/voters a clearer look at what's behind the statements their leaders make.

As demonstrated above, once a message becomes engrained in an official's platform, it's probably not going to change, no matter how much we point out the inaccuracies behind it. Political campaigns paint with the broadest of brushes and they rarely yield the canvas to those who point out what they consider to be minute, subjective technicalities. And in political messaging, unfortunately, the ends generally are considered to justify the means.

As a voter, though, you deserve to know what kind of evidence goes into building these claims.

I'd write more but an urgent email from the Tammy Duckworth campaign -- subject line: "BREAKING: Kirk's new lie about his military record" just dropped into my inbox:

Mark Kirk has told at least 10 different lies about his military service during his political career....

I guess "at least nine" doesn't pack quite the same punch.

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Our Sources

For Bruce Rauner fact check:

Illinois State Budget, FY 2015, Chapter 6, page 284

Illinois State Budget, FY 2014, Chapter 6, page 263

Illinois State budget, FY 2013, Chapter 5, page 238

Illinois State Budget, FY 2012, Chapter 6, page 2

Illinois State Budget, FY 2010

Illinois State Budget (proposed), FY 2016, Chapter 6, page 257

(Budget documents accessed Aug. 29-31, 2016)

Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability at the Civic Federation, blog post, "Use of Education Stimulus Money in Illinois Raises Concerns," Sept. 25, 2009 (accessed Aug. 30, 2016)

U.S. Government Accountability Office, report to congressional committees, "Funds Continue to
Provide Fiscal Relief to States and Localities, While Accountability and Reporting Challenges
Need to Be Fully Addressed" (Aug. 30, 2016)

Reboot Illinois, "Illinois Education Funding Hits the Spin Cycle in Governor’s Race," Aug. 28, 2014

"Illinois Gubernatorial Candidates Fight over Education Funding," Associated Press, Oct. 17, 2014 (Aug. 29-31, 2016)

Gov. Bruce Rauner, speech, Illinois State Fair Governor’s Day rally, Aug. 17, 2016

Christopher Z. Mooney, director, Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois, telephone interview, Aug. 30, 2016

Steve Schnorf, former director, Illinois Bureau of the Budget, 1997-2002, telephone interview, Aug. 30, 2016

Catherine Kelly, spokeswoman for Gov. Bruce Rauner, email, Aug. 23, 25, 30

Joan Walters, former director, Illinois Bureau of the Budget, 1991-1997, telephone interview, Aug. 30, 2016

Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability at the Civic Federation, blog post, "Governor Proposes FY2012 Budget with More Borrowing and Spending," Feb. 17, 2011 (Aug. 30, 2016)

Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability at the Civic Federation, report, "A Review of the Operating and Capital Budgets Enacted for the Current Fiscal Year," Jan. 22, 2010 (Aug. 30, 2016)

Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability at the Civic Federation, "State of Illinois Education Funding: Analyzing Trends," blog post, Oct. 15, 2014 (Aug. 30, 2016)

Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability at the Civic Federation, report, "State of Illinois Enacted FY2015 Budget: A Review of the Operating and Capital Budgets for the Current Fiscal Year", Oct. 9, 2014 (Aug. 30, 2016)

Illinois State Board of Education, Division of Funding and Disbursement Services, General State Aid summary (105 ILCS 5/18-18.05), Sept. 21, 2015 (Aug. 30, 2016)

For Tammy Duckworth fact check: 

Email correspondence, Matt McGrath, deputy campaign manager, Duckworth for Senate, Aug. 24, 2016

Email and telephone interview, Kevin Artl, campaign manager,  Kirk for Senate, Sept. 15, 2016

Official Mark Kirk website, accessed Aug. 24-Sept. 12, 2016, background on 10th Congressional District, Sept. 12, 2016

(Sources below accessed multiple times Sept. 5-14, 2016)

Carol Marin column, "Kirk fails to set the record straight," Chicago Sun-Times, June 30, 2010

Carol Marin column, "Kirk’s trying to dodge blame for false claims," Chicago Sun-Times, June 2, 2010, blog posts from 2010 on Kirk’s military claims; "A conversation on Mark Kirk," Aug. 4, 2005, blog post;  "It’s Time for Mark Kirk to Apologize," Aug. 3, 2005, blog post; "Jean’s lie outs a fellow Republican,"Aug. 2, 2005; "Yet another Kirk post," May 28, 2010;"Why Blumenthal not Kirk?", May 20, 2010

"Kirk campaign acknowledges another misrepresentation of military service," Washington Post Plum Line blog, June 2, 2010

"GOP Senate candidate Kirk overstated military award,"Chicago Tribune, May 29, 2010

"Kirk apologizes, acknowledges more errors in military resume," Chicago Tribune, June 3, 2010

"Alexi Giannoulias says Kirk mixed politics and military service," PolitiFact, July 8, 2010

Illinois State Board of Elections, election results 2010 general election, Sept. 12, 2016

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PolitiFact Illinois can check facts, can't make politicians listen