MADISON, Wis. - In the down and dirty campaign for governor, a new political TV ad on the air in Wisconsin compares Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle with notorious President Richard Nixon.
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In the ad, fake news reports alleging ties between campaign donations and state contracts are separated with infamous quotes from Nixon such as, "Well, I'm not a crook."
The Coalition for America's Families is running the commercial statewide. The group is led by former state Republican Party Chairman Steve King.
UW Political Science professor Charles Franklin said the Nixon component is interesting.
"[It's] ironic coming from Republican supporters that they would use Nixon," Franklin said.
"It's also interesting that Nixon is entirely in black and white. I believe we had color television in those days," Franklin said. "When you want to show your opponent in a bad light you switch to black and white."
The ad highlights questionable contributions made by citizens involved in the bidding for state contracts. Some donors received the work, others didn't. Doyle hasn't been charged with any crime and has denied donations have any influence over who gets a state contract.
But Franklin said that's exactly why Nixon is used in the ad.
"The 'I'm not a crook' line from Nixon is a classic example of a politician telling you one thing and then something else turning out. The rhetorical linking of Nixon to Doyle where there's absolutely no real world connection is smart political strategy. It's not necessarily excellent history," said Franklin
Beyond the Nixon part of the commercial, the ad makes three claims.
In the ad, a female announcer says, "State official Georgia Thompson was convicted of steering a contract to Doyle contributors. State and federal prosecutors are continuing to investigate Doyle's administration." A WISC-TV analysis of the ad found that claim "needs clarification."
Georgia Thompson was convicted of illegally steering the travel contract to a Doyle donor, but prosecutors didn't charge anyone else, including Doyle. And while the investigation remains open, it doesn't mean more charges are expected.
In the next fake news account, a male announcer tells viewers, "In other news, Schiffrin gave $10,000 to Doyle the same day he met with Doyle's top aide to discuss a contract." WISC-TV finds this part of the ad is "true."
Then-Department of Administration official Marc Marotta met with Philadelphia-based attorney Richard Schiffrin who wanted a state contract working on a lawsuit. The contract was awarded to another firm but Schiffrin did donate $10,000, the maximum under the law, to the Doyle campaign the same day as the meeting.
Finally, the last claim is "true," according to WISC-TV: "Employees of a firm that received the $68 million contract contributed $51,000 to Doyle," said a female announcer in the ad.
The contract was to renovate a building near the UW-Milwaukee campus. The amount of donations is true, but some of the campaign cash was given before the project was even up for bid.
Overall, Franklin said it's tough to know if these donations help get contracts.
"The question is, 'Is there are basis for these allegations beyond the fact that they simply smell bad," said Franklin. "I have absolutely no idea what the truth is in terms of whether there are direct favors for these types of contributions."
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