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EDITORIAL: Playing fast and loose with the facts in the race for attorney general

Erika Harold and Kwame Raoul at a Sun-Times Editorial Board forum earlier this year. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

They are running to be the top lawyer for the state of Illinois, yet they are broadcasting campaign ads that wouldn’t pass the smell test with a good jury.

Erika Harold’s ad would have you believe that her Democratic opponent in the race for Illinois attorney general, state Sen. Kwame Raoul, worked in cahoots with Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan to hike Chicago’s property taxes.

Raoul did not.

EDITORIAL

Raoul’s ad would have you believe that his Republican opponent, Harold, is opposed to allowing a “loving gay couple” to adopt a child. That same ad would have you believe she’d support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Harold would not, at least no longer. Her views, she says, have “evolved.”

Unless Raoul has proof to the contrary, his ad is offensively false.

Video by Colin Boyle and Eliza Davidson

As reported in Tuesday’s Sun-Times, Politifact Illinois, the fact-checking service of the Better Government Association, has deemed Harold’s ad “mostly false” and Raoul’s ad flatly “false.”

But when we met with both candidates on Tuesday — along with Libertarian candidate Bubba Harsy — for an editorial board endorsement interview, we asked them once again to make a convincing case for the veracity of their TV ads.

In our opinion, they failed to do so.

In Harold’s TV spot, she says this: “I’m Erika Harold and this scheme is one of the worst: Mike Madigan and Kwame Raoul team up to raise property taxes.” She then implies, falsely, that Raoul is somehow involved in Madigan’s property tax appeals business.

The reality, as the BGA’s fact-checking makes clear, is that Raoul and Madigan sponsored bills in the Senate and House four years ago that were designed to help Chicago shore up two ailing pension funds. The legislation allowed for cuts to city worker retirement benefits, required increased contributions to the pension systems by both the city and workers, and allowed the city — at the discretion of the mayor and City Council — to raise property taxes.

But when then-Gov. Pat Quinn and other lawmakers objected to the language allowing for a tax hike, it was stripped from the bill.

The bottom line, which you would never know from Harold’s ad, is this:

The central aim of the legislation, passed with bipartisan support, was to curb retirement benefits, not to raise property taxes. Had the provision allowing for a tax hike been kept in the bill, the decision to do so would have been Rahm Emanuel’s — not Raoul’s or Madigan’s. And there was no tax increase.

Asked about this on Tuesday, Harold resorted to lawyerly parsing, insisting she was “very careful with the words” in the ad.

Video by Eliza Davidson and Colin Boyle | AG nominees, Republican Erika Harold, Democrat Kwame Raoul and Libertarian Bubba Harsy

But it was the words she left out of the ad — the ones that would have provided context, nuance and fairness — that she did not want the voters to hear.

As for Raoul’s ad attacking Harold, it is based on remarks she allegedly made as a 19-year-old Miss Illinois contestant in 2000. NBC5 reported in March, citing three anonymous sources, that Harold said she would choose child abusers over a loving gay couple if she had to choose where to place a child in foster care.

Harold has said she doesn’t remember that exchange but remembers “that at the time I would not have supported same-sex adoption.” But since then, she has made clear, her views have changed.

I support same-sex couples being able to adopt and be able to foster parents because I believe they provide loving homes,” she said Tuesday.

In Raoul’s TV ad, the narrator says “we know” that Harold would “discriminate against a loving gay couple who want to adopt a child, favoring an abusive straight couple instead.”

No, we don’t know. And neither does Raoul. When Harold on Tuesday asked Raoul for “evidence” to back up his claim, he offered none.

Raoul has attempted to cast doubt on Harold’s forthrightness on this matter by citing her responses to a candidate survey four years ago when she was running for Congress. In an answer to one question by the conservative Illinois Family Institute, she indicated that she supported defining marriage as between a man and woman.

But Harold no longer supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, citing the Supreme Court ruling that made it legal in 2015. And when we asked her whether her position on same-sex couples adopting children would change if the Supreme Court made gay marriage illegal again, she said: “Of course not.”

Law students are taught that the purpose of a trial is to “get to the truth.”

Not so much for campaign ads.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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Video by Eliza Davidson and Colin Boyle Republican Erika Harold, Democrat Kwame Raoul and Libertarian Bubba Harsy are seeking y

WATCH: Republican nominee Erika Harold, Democratic nominee Kwame Raoul and Libertarian Bubba Harsy are seeking your vote to be the next Illinois attorney general. They were invited to meet with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board. The general election is Nov. 6.