Thursday, March 17, 2016 12:20 am
Madigan, Rauner campaign to destroy
Madigan’s own Democratic primary race has been a good example. He posted yard signs all over his district urging his constituents to vote against “convicted felon Jason Gonzales,” and his cable TV and direct mail ceaselessly pounded home that very same message. His captains also reportedly had volunteers holding those signs at the entrance to voting locations.
Gonzales is, indeed, a convicted felon. But that happened two decades ago, and he was pardoned by former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. To hear the Madigan campaign tell it, however, you’d think the guy just walked out of prison.
Or, take a look at what Madigan did to Katelyn Hotle. The House Speaker’s operation dropped at least nine negative mailers on the little-known, lightly funded candidate in the Democratic primary to replace retiring state Rep. Pat Verschoore (D-Milan). The gist of the attacks was that Hotle, a local alderman, profited personally from her shoddy government service, but none of it was true.
They also smeared Hotle in the media for being a “plant” of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s. Why? The only real explanation is that she was the lone female in a four-way primary, so she could do well on demographics alone and they had to take her out. For good.
The Madigan operation reached way back into Rep. Ken Dunkin’s (D-Chicago) past to find an arrest, some formal allegations of domestic abuse and troubles paying his child support and then used that against him in his Democratic primary campaign. Dunkin started the fight by so closely allying himself with our Republican governor and thumbing his nose at his fellow Democrats, but he seems to have personally rehabilitated himself. Madigan and the people around him didn’t care. It’s a matter of public record and Dunkin got whacked with it.
But as we’ve also discovered this year, Gov. Rauner’s legislative campaign operation is eerily similar to Madigan’s. And while that’s making some Republicans privately uncomfortable, Madigan’s way has proven to work far more often than not over the years.
A good case in point is conservative activist Dan Proft’s TV ads in the 102nd House District GOP primary against Jim Acklin.
Proft’s Liberty Principles PAC ran a blistering TV ad that claimed Acklin, as a school superintendent, “blamed the victim” and “did nothing” about a sexual predator in his school system who also happened to be a “family friend.” The ad was based on a failed civil lawsuit – a very thin reed, indeed – but it was brutal.
Rauner and his pals have pumped seven-figure contributions into Proft’s PAC over the past few months. They’ve clearly been involved in several races through Proft.
Gov. Rauner and his people do not want Acklin nominated because he is backed by former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, a frequent Rauner critic. So, they’re supporting former state Rep. Brad Halbrook (R-Shelbyville), despite the fact that they don’t really love the guy. Keeping Edgar’s fingers out of the House has been their priority.
So, they launched a second killer TV ad to build on their theme. The new spot used Acklin’s own videotaped comments at a candidates’ forum where he claimed to have acted “quickly and decisively” to remove the predator teacher from his school.
But the second Proft ad claimed: “In his own words, it took him four years to act...Four years,” while displaying a news clip on the screen about how Acklin said “he was aware of an incident involving [the predator] in 2008.” That “incident” was an allegation that the teacher was texting a student, but the student denied at the time that anything inappropriate was going on. The teacher was warned, and that was the end of it until the predator’s arrest four years later. “Acklin touts his judgment. On March 15th, make your own,” the ad concludes.
Acklin raised a decent amount of funds compared to similar races in prior years, but times have changed. Both sides in Rep. Dunkin’s race (including Rauner’s allies) dumped well over $5 million into the contest. A Senate Republican primary race in the Springfield area where the governor opposed the incumbent saw spending top $3.5 million.
Acklin wasn’t able to air a response ad until a full week after the initial Proft ad aired, and after he’d already been buried with Rauner’s money.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.