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Few local legislative races in Illinois are as hotly contested as the one in the 79th District between incumbent state Rep. Kate Cloonen, D-Kankakee, and her Republican challenger Lindsay Parkhurst.
Cloonen, who won the 2014 election by a mere 122 votes and the 2012 election by just 91, is seeking her third term in the General Assembly. Parkhurst is a political newcomer and a defense attorney who has headed a general practice law firm for 16 years, during which she has represented clients in Social Security disability and workers’ compensation cases.
In a Sept. 21 campaign ad posted on Cloonen’s Facebook page, she claimed, "Lindsay Parkhurst wants to take away programs like Social Security and Medicare that seniors have earned throughout their lifetimes."
Since state lawmakers play no role in these federal programs, we decided to check the record to see if there’s any merit to Cloonen’s claim.
Cloonen’s campaign did not respond to multiple emails and phone messages requesting information and sources used to back up her claim.
The ad cites three articles from 2011 by the Philadelphia Tribune, NPR and Bloomberg.com, as well as a March 2014 article by the Chicago Tribune.
However, the NPR article dated March 29, 2011, was about Democratic members of Congress holding a rally to support Social Security. The Bloomberg story from Aug. 12, 2011, was about former GOP congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare for future recipients. Neither article mentions Parkhurst.
A search of the Philadelphia Tribune and Chicago Tribune archives did not yield any results for the dates listed. But considering Parkhurst was a private citizen at the time and not even on the political radar, it’s unlikely these news stories would include any mention of her, let alone describe her position on Medicare and Social Security benefits for seniors.
In a phone interview, Parkhurst told PolitiFact Illinois she has no idea where the Cloonen camp got this information to level the accusation. Parkhurst noted she has represented clients in cases involving Social Security disability benefits for people who were not at the eligible age of 65 -- the opposite of what Cloonen’s ad suggests.
"I advocate for people to qualify and obtain those benefits," Parkhurst said. "I have been an advocate for 16 years."
When asked about her general position on Social Security and Medicare, Parkhurst said both are part of a contract the federal government has made with U.S. citizens and one that must be honored, not eliminated.
Regardless, the claim against Parkhurst is curious because state lawmakers have no authority over these federal programs.
State role in Social Security and Medicare
Charlie Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting graduate program at the University of Illinois-Springfield and a long-time former politics and government reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, says the ad attempts to make a connection that’s not there and ignores the fact that the state only administers these programs and cannot eliminate Social Security benefits or Medicare for seniors.
Wheeler said the only quasi-logical explanation behind Cloonen’s claim is that the Democrat is trying to tie Parkhurst to the GOP’s national platform, which many believe includes policies that would hurt the Social Security program.
It’s a very old and common campaign tactic to link a local legislative candidate to his or her party’s broader policies and scandals, Wheeler noted, pointing to recent TV ads and campaign mailers in which Democratic and Republican candidates have tried linking their opponents to sex offenders.
"The state Legislature and state law have very little to do with Social Security and Medicare. Those are federal programs," Wheeler said. "State involvement would be to the extent that it collects Social Security taxes and passes them on to the federal government."
In a campaign ad posted on Facebook, Cloonen said, "Lindsay Parkhurst wants to take away programs like Social Security and Medicare that seniors have earned throughout their lifetimes."
With Social Security and Medicare being federal programs, state lawmakers have no say in setting benefit levels for these programs.
Additionally, Parkhurst has not previously held elected office and therefore has no public voting record on Social Security or Medicare. Nor has she talked about her position on Medicare or Social Security benefits in her campaign.
Ironically, Parkhurst is a defense attorney whose law firm has helped clients obtain Social Security disability benefits. She believes both Social Security and Medicare are part of a contract the federal government must honor.
Cloonen’s campaign did not respond to multiple emails and messages for comment, and the articles cited in the ad contain no mention of Parkhurst.
There is no evidence to back Cloonen’s claim, nor can we find any statement or action by Parkhurst that would have, even indirectly, elicited it.
We rate Cloonen’s claim Pants on Fire.
Campaign ad, state Rep. Kate Cloonen’s Facebook page, Sept. 21, 2016 (accessed Sept. 26, 2016)
Email and phone interview, Ed Murphy, Illinois House Republican Organization, Sept. 26, 2016
Phone interview, Lindsay Parkhurst, Republican candidate for 79th District, Oct. 5, 2016
Phone interview, Charlie Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting graduate program at the University of Illinois-Springfield, Oct. 11, 2016
Phone correspondence, Cathy Meltzer, Cloonen’s chief of staff, Sept. 29, 2016
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