SCOTT SIMON, host:
In President Obama's home state of Illinois, there's a fierce race going on for his old Senate seat. Roland Burris, the senator appointed by former Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich, who, of course, is now on trial for fraud and corruption, isn't running. Instead, the state treasurer, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias - old basketball chum of President Obama's - and Republican Congressman Mark Kirk are involved in one of the most nasty, brutal contests of the election cycle.
But for those of us who love Illinois politics, it really puts the roses in your cheeks. Bill Adair is back to help us fact-check some of the campaign ads in the race. He's editor of the nonpartisan website Politifact.com. Bill, thanks very much for being back with us.
Mr. BILL ADAIR (Editor, Politifact.com, Washington Bureau Chief, St. Petersburg Times): Thanks for having me.
SIMON: Let's run through some of these ads. Republican candidate Mark Kirk in one ad tries to link his opponent to the BP oil spill. Let's listen in.
(Soundbite of ad)
Unidentified Woman #1: Mark Kirk won praise for helping stop BP when it tried to pollute Lake Michigan. The Sun Times said Kirk, quote, "fought hard to stop BP from dumping more waste into the lake." In contrast, Alexi Giannoulias's top aide was a long-time BP lobbyist. And now Alexi says higher energy taxes are on the table. Kirk and Giannoulias: big differences on the environment and taxes.
SIMON: Be like the scorer of a prize fight ringside. Score this one for us if you could.
Mr. ADAIR: We rated this barely true, and specifically the claim that the long-time aide was a BP lobbyist. Well, it turns out that he was actually a land use attorney who represented a division of BP that handled gas stations.
SIMON: These are the local franchisers...
Mr. ADAIR: ...that pump the BP gas. And the truth was that in Chicago, you do have to register when you do that kind of land use work as a lobbyist, but it's not the sort of lobbyist that people would think of normally. And so we found it barely true on our truth-o-meter.
SIMON: Another ad by Congressman Kirk says that Alexi Giannoulias made loans to convicted mobsters when he was a senior loan officer at his family's bank.
(Soundbite of ad)
Unidentified Woman #2: Alexi Giannoulias is only 34 years old, but what a 34 years it's been. At his father's bank, Alexi made tens of millions in risky loans to convicted mobsters, then the bank collapsed. As treasurer, he made risky investments that cost families $73 million in lost college savings. Now, running for Senate, Alexi supports higher taxes to fund billions more in spending. Alexi Giannoulias: trust him with your money?
SIMON: Now, as an old crime reporter, I will point out that mobsters are usually the ones who give the loans, they don't walk in and fill out applications. But score this one.
Mr. ADAIR: Well, we love this one because of some of the nicknames that flash on the screen: Jaws and Half Dollar, the names of the mobsters. We've rated this one half-true on our truth-o-meter. It's true that Giannoulias was a vice president at the family bank, at Broadway Bank, and was a senior loan officer and had some ties to some of the people that the ad mentions. But it is a stretch to say that that caused the bank to collapse. The bank did collapse but it collapsed...
SIMON: Which is a politically vulnerable point that he's going to have to contend with, this campaign.
Mr. ADAIR: Absolutely. But to link the loans to these guys to the collapse of the bank is a stretch, so we rated that half-true on our truth-o-meter.
SIMON: An ad now for Mr. Giannoulias criticizing Mark Kirk for misstatements about his military record.
(Soundbite of ad)
Unidentified Man #1: Kirk's claim he fought in the first Iraq War was not true.
Unidentified Man #2: Still more questions tonight about Congressman Mark Kirk's military record.
Representative MARK KIRK (Republican, Illinois): I command the war room in the Pentagon.
Unidentified Man #2: Kirk does serve in the Pentagon's Alert Center but does not command it.
Unidentified Woman #3: He did violate Pentagon rules twice actually for improperly mingling politics...
SIMON: This is tough stuff. How do you score it?
Mr. ADAIR: It's very tough. We specifically looked at the claim that Giannoulias saying that Kirk violated the Pentagon's provisions against mingling politics and the military. And we rated that true on our truth-o-meter. Indeed, there is evidence that the Pentagon has scolded Kirk for that, that while Kirk was on duty that he did a couple of things that were political. They don't seem to be very serious offenses but the Pentagon's acknowledged it and so we rated that true on our truth-o-meter.
SIMON: What do these ads say about the candidates in this race?
Mr. ADAIR: Well, the Illinois race, the candidates have some real vulnerabilities here, both Giannoulias and Kirk. And it just shows that in Illinois they're really willing to mix it up and throw some mud.
SIMON: Well, hope we didn't get any on you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Bill Adair is editor of Politifact and the Washington bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times. Thanks very much.
Mr. ADAIR: Thanks for having me.