Millions Spent on Campaign Ads in 13th Congressional Race
By Jim Browne
Millions of dollars have been spent on campaign ads in the race in Illinois’ new 13th congressional district.
What should have been a fairly routine race by an incumbent to congress changed last spring, when U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) announced he would not seek reelection, just weeks after winning the GOP party primary.
In addition, the district had been redrawn by Illinois' Democratic controlled legislature to a more favorable, from their viewpoint, configuration. Rodney Davis is the man appointed by party leaders as the Republican candidate for the 13th congressional district.
Davis faces Doctor David Gill of Bloomington, the winner of the Democratic nomination. Joining the two, Independent Candidate John Hartman of Edwardsville, the Chief Financial Officer for a Saint Louis based genetics firm.
David Gill said he knows it is one of a handful of elections that could determine control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
"I think there's probably ten to twenty that are, that the control of congress hinges upon, and I would say that we are one of those," Gill said.
That helps explain why the major parties and other outside groups have poured $4.6 million into the race, which is paying for, among other things, all the campaign ads and flyers in central and southwestern Illinois.
Some of the ads have been so nasty it prompted the retiring incumbent, Tim Johnson, earlier this month to ask both sides to tone it down.
"My constituents, Republican, Democrat, Gill and Davis, liberal and conservative all say this is bad stuff, and you've got to change it," Johnson said.
Rodney Davis claims Gill started the negative ads.
"Now, we talk about negative advertising," Davis said. "I got the nomination for this seat on May 19, and the same day, five minutes after, I was, five minutes after I got the nomination, I was attacked by David Gill."
A political advertisement paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has aired, connecting Rodney Davis to imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan.
During an interview, Gill denied running negative ads, until just days before he sat down for an interview on Oct. 16.
"Until three days ago, my campaign had run zero negative TV or radio ads," Gill said.
But Gill said there are plenty of others paying for the ads.
"The American Action Network, which is a disguise for AETNA insurance for the most part, the U.S. chamber of commerce, dominated by somewhat large corporations including oil companies and drug companies, the Republican party, the Democratic party," he said.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court Decision known as "Citizens United," outside parties can spend freely in elections as part of their freedom of speech rights, and need not disclose where the money comes from.
Congressman Tim Johnson said the money, and tone of the race for the 13th district is troubling:
"You know quite frankly I think it reflects campaigns all over the country," Johnson said.
In his scolding of both the Democrat and Republican seeking the seat he'll soon vacate, Johnson also warned continued attack ads would only benefit independent candidate John Hartman.
Hartman said he hopes voters disenchanted with the negativity will give his campaign another look, but also says it may simply serve to turn more voters off on the entire political process.
"I wish that we would not have acrimony," Hartman said. "I wish that we could have constructive debate. And to answer your question more specifically, I think it reinforces something that I heard when I spoke to about 8,000 when I was collecting my signatures to get on the ballot, and they were disgusted with the way politics is going on."
The bitterness is also spilling over into debates. At an appearance in Springfield, Rodney Davis turned an accusation from David Gill that Republican policies would ship jobs overseas into a jab on campaign financing.
"David, you know I'm not for any tax credit that's going to ship jobs overseas, David, you have consistently talked about not taking corporate PAC money to fund your ads, and what you have done is broken that pledge," Davis said.
Davis and Gill also clash over who's the insider. Gill calls Davis a career politician because he has most recently been an aide to U.S. Representative John Shimkus of Collinsville. Davis is also a failed candidate for mayor of Taylorville, and he was an employee in the Secretary of State's office.
Davis is calling Gill a "Career Politician wannabe" in reference to Gill's three losses to Johnson.
Johnson said he never resorted to negative attacks while pursuing his decades long political career. Prior to the democratic reconfiguration of the district, it had been a safely Republican zone, which favored Johnson.
In his announcement, Tim Johnson said he could no longer remain silent as the race descended into name-calling and half-truths.
"And I didn't feel that in good conscious that I can sit back and allow that to maintain itself,"Johnson said.
It is perhaps a mark of the stakes in this election cycle that the race for the 13th district has been both acrimonious and expensive.
However, the Good government website "OpenSecrets.org" notes its not even in the top ten races national when it comes to money spent.