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Illinois’ 20th House district is considered one of the most important in-state races to watch come Election Day in the battle for seats between Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The district, which includes parts of Chicago’s Northwest side and nearby suburbs,features Republican state Rep. MichaelMcAuliffe defending his seat from first-time candidate Democrat Merry Marwig. McAuliffe’s defense includes a new television ad that calls Marwig corrupt and ties her to Madigan because she has successfully appealed her property tax bills.
The ad, titled "Inside Game," is a 30-second spot running in the Chicago area and was produced by Citizens for Michael McAuliffe and the Illinois House Republican Organization.
Here’s the transcript:
"Mike Madigan made a fortune on tax appeals. Representing the powerful and politically connected. Saving his friends millions. Forcing you to pay more. It’s an inside game played by people like Merry Marwig, Madigan’s hand-picked candidate. When Marwig thought her property taxes were too high she got them lowered at your expense. Saved so much she did it again. Marwig and Madigan: Profiting from the same corrupt system."
It got us wondering: Did Marwig get her property taxes lowered? Did Madigan have anything to do with it? Is it corrupt to get your property taxes lowered? We took a look to find out.
Madigan’s law firm and tax appeals
The opening line of the advertisement says: "Mike Madigan made a fortune on tax appeals. Representing the powerful and politically connected. Saving his friends millions."
Madigan’s personal law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, has made quite a bit of money from property tax appeals. According to the Chicago Tribune, Madigan & Getzendanner represented 45 of the 150 most valuable Chicago downtown buildings in 2008. The Tribune also found "Madigan's firm won enough appeals to cut more than $183 million from the taxable value of the top high-rises it represented" in 2006.
A 2013 Chicago Magazine article also backs this claim, citing a Sun-Timesarticle that says over the course of a decade Madigan & Getzendanner made nearly $14 million for suburban Cook County landowners.
Madigan and Marwig
Where the ad gets murky is when it starts linking Marwig to Madigan. The advertisement says Madigan "saved his friends millions, forcing you to pay more." It also says Marwig is Madigan’s "hand-picked candidate." The ad lays out these ideas in an order that implies Madigan’s firm represented Marwig during her property value reassessment. However, Marwig and her husband were not represented by an attorney and filled out the forms themselves.
Marwig’s property taxes
Next, the ad claims Marwig had her property taxes "lowered at your expense. Saved so much she did it again."
Marwig once unsuccessfully appealed to the Cook County Assessor to have her property value lowered in 2015. However, she successfully appealed to the Cook County Board of Review twice. It resulted in getting her property taxes lowered by about $400 in her 2013 appeal and then about $700 in her 2015 appeal.
Marwig believes there is a double standard for McAuliffe to criticize her practices. In an emailed statement to Reboot Illinois she said:
"For Mike McAuliffe -- a 20-year politician who has personally benefited from a property tax appeal -- to attack my family for going through the legal process of correcting a government error in an unfair tax bill is another sad example of what’s wrong with the politics and hypocrisy that local residents are so fed up with."
Note: McAuliffe did benefit from getting his property taxes lowered when his condominium association appealed its property value in 2012. However, McAuliffe did not file the claim himself.
And when the advertisement says Marwig got her property taxes "lowered at your expense," it’s technically correct. But Chicago-based property appeals lawyer Gary H. Smith believes the ad implies Marwig is stealing, which is not actually the case.
"It’s got elements of the truth," Smith said. "When someone gets their property assessment lowered, it has to be made up by everyone else."
But is it corrupt? The ad ends by saying, "Marwig and Madigan: Profiting from the same corrupt system."
Not at all, Smith says. Anyone, regardless of whether they are regular citizen or a political candidate, can appeal a property tax bill if they believe it is inaccurate.
According to the most recent available data from the Cook County Board of Review website, citizens filed appeals for nearly 403,000 parcels in 2013. The Board of Review approved a reduction for 63 percent of them.
Smith said the ad’s message is misleading and paints the practice of property value reassessment as ugly.
"It’s horrible we live in a society that a system that’s meant to improve our lives might be perceived as a detriment based on a person’s political status," Smith said.
In their advertisement, Citizens for Michael McAuliffe and the House Republican Organization say, "Mike Madigan made a fortune on tax appeals. Representing the powerful and politically connected.… When (Merry) Marwig thought her property taxes were too high she got them lowered at your expense... Marwig and Madigan: Profiting from the same corrupt system."
Merry Marwig did, in fact, get her property taxes lowered twice and it did raise other people’s taxes. But the ad’s tone and inferences are misleading to viewers.
It makes it seem like Madigan’s firm was connected to Marwig’s property value reassessment. Madigan’s firm never represented Marwig. In fact, Marwig never used an attorney during her property tax appeals.
The ad also calls the practice of appealing one’s property taxes corrupt. While there is evidence Madigan has been a highly successful property tax appeal lawyer whose clients win breaks more than many others, any citizen within the geographic boundary can file an appeal to the Cook County Assessor's Office or Cook County Board of Review. The process becomes public record. While some people may think Madigan succeeds more than average citizens, there’s no evidence the system as a whole is corrupt.
We rate this claim as Mostly False.
Chicago Magazine, "Michael Madigan is the King of Illinois," Nov. 20, 2013
Chicago Tribune, "Madigan’s Kind of Town", Jan. 24. 2010
Cook County Assessor’s Office, Michael McAuliffe’s former condominium appeal history, Sept. 27, 2016
Cook County Assessor’s Office, Merry Marwig property value appeal, Sept. 21, 2016
Cook County Board of Review, Merry Marwig’s appeal history, Sept. 21
Cook County Board of Review Statistics, Sept. 27, 2016
Gary H. Smith, Property Tax Attorney, Sept. 21, 2016
Gary H. Smith, Phone interview, Sept 21, 2016
Illinois State Board of Elections, Candidate Details, Sept. 21, 2016
"Inside Game" ad grid from Illinois Republican Party spokesperson Aaron DeGroot, Sept. 21, 2016
YouTube, "Inside Game," Sept. 12, 2016
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