Campaign advertising that depicts Fifth District Appellate Court candidates John Barberis and James "Randy" Moore as judicial "activists" in flyers sent to Republican households and as "judicial bobbleheads for Bruce Rauner" in flyers sent to Democratic households have infuriated supporters of the judges.
The direct mail pieces were produced by the political action committee Fair Courts Now, a group funded primarily by asbestos lawyers who practice in Madison County - the nation's busiest asbestos court. The group formed in mid-October and has raised and spent more than $1 million in negative advertising.
"Fair Courts Now has nothing to do with fairness and everything to do with keeping Illinois’ status quo as one of the worst states in the nation for legal fairness," said Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch.
The PAC's chairman Bobby Green has been contacted for comment.
The ad going to Republican households says: "Republican voter alert. 'Not qualified' and 'not recommended' activist judges don't deserve our vote."
The ad going to Democratic households is more descriptive: "Election alert for Democrats. John Barberis and James Moore. Bobbleheads for Bruce Rauner...Barberis and Moore support Bruce Rauner's cuts to schools, child care, senior services and women's health care."
Illinois State Board of Elections official Tom Newman said that nothing in state disclosure law speaks to what a PAC can or cannot say. He said that there is no "party prohibition."
A press release by the Illinois Republican Party suggests that the mailers are designed to appear as if they were sent from Republican organizations opposing Moore and Barberis.
"Dirty, Chicago-style campaign tactics from trial lawyers are why state government is fundamentally broken," Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider stated in the release. "These false mailers are intentionally designed to deceive voters about Justice Randy Moore’s and Judge John Barberis’ independent conservative record and alter the outcome of the upcoming election. Voters deserve to know these tactics for what they are – fraudulent schemes of desperate individuals and desperate campaigns following the Mike Madigan playbook."
Moore's campaign manager is son, Nathan Moore, who said the tactics being used by the group are "pretty terrible."
"The ads are very misleading, if not downright lies," said Nathan Moore.
He said that the PAC's acceptance of money from attorneys trying to influence the race in courts they go before is "not right and not good."
Barberis said the flyers were "despicable."
"Obviously, this is an underhanded tactic," he said. "The facts don't matter. They believe that voters are stupid and gullible.
"I don't think it's going to work."
Akin said trial lawyer funding of judicial races is nothing new in the Metro East, referencing a study produced by the Illinois Civil Justice League and I-LAW showing that contributions given by Illinois personal injury lawyers to Illinois judges and politicians topped $35.25 million in the past 15 years.
"This new study proves that personal injury lawyers are gaming the system to their advantage by funneling millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Illinois judges," he said.