Tom Kacich: Outside spending in 13th means race is close

Tom Kacich: Outside spending in 13th means race is close

Of David Gill, Abraham Lincoln, the Marx Brothers and Champaign high schools:

So-called "independent" spending in the 13th Congressional District race — campaign spending that supposedly is not coordinated with any of the candidates' own campaign — has already cleared the $1 million threshold, according to the Federal Election Commission.

And there's more than a month until Election Day.

The big spending, mostly on television ads, is an indication of how close the race between Republican Rodney Davis and Democrat David Gill is believed to be. And the television ads, which continue to distort Gill's and Davis' positions and biographies, are an indication of how far national groups will go to dirty up what is a central Illinois race.

The biggest spender so far is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has invested $400,224 on advertising opposing Davis. In second place is the American Action Network Inc., which has spent $325,110 on ads opposing Gill. In third place is the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has spent $258,130 on anti-Gill ads. The last anti-Gill group is the New Prosperity Foundation, with $60,524 in advertising.

A fifth group, the Service Employes International Union, has spent more than $11,000, most of it on canvassing and rallies on behalf of Gill.

Gill, who has run for Congress three times previously in the old 15th District (and never gotten more than 42 percent of the vote), said this year's race in a new district and with a new opponent is a different experience. In his previous races against retiring Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, Gill said he never had to contend with negative TV ads, video "trackers" following him at public events, websites calling him "Dr. Radical" or a costumed "Dr. Radical" appearing outside his fundraisers.

While annoying, Gill said he expected the heightened attention.

"It's a much better district for me and I'm going to win this thing. That's why they're doing what they're doing," said the Bloomington physician.

Gill's biggest complaint is the negative advertising. He said the ads his campaign has aired on his behalf don't attack Davis and claimed the commercials paid for by the DCCC are beyond his authority.

"I have no control over the DCCC and more importantly they have no control over me. They don't tell me what to say and they're not going to tell me how to vote when I get to Washington. Or I'm not necessarily going to abide by any instructions that I'm given," said Gill. "The negative ads running on behalf of me are from them and I have no control over them.

"There are negative ads running against me that perhaps Mr. Davis has no control over. But he does control Rodney Davis for Congress and they're running a lot of lying, negative material about his opponent, me. So I would say there's a lot of negativity out there, but there's one shining light that isn't engaging in that and that's my campaign."

Gill's own ads are positive. But Davis' ads, while negative, appear to be truthful. Using Gill's own words from a debate earlier this year, the Davis ads point out that Gill believes that President Barack Obama's Affordable Car Act didn't go far enough, and that "We shouldn't be allergic to raising revenues in this country." He has made similar statements in recent months, although he wants a tax increase not on all Americans but on those making $250,000 or more a year.

Gill said he would prefer that the candidates have more debates — only one has been agreed to by all three candidates, including independent John Hartman — although Gill's campaign said he was unavailable for an Oct. 4 debate that had been proposed by The News-Gazette. The Davis campaign never responded either, and the event was canceled.

"I'd like the widest audience possible to see us sharing our ideas, and hearing me take him on with regard to his distortions of my ideas," said Gill.

Half Century Club. Noted Lincoln author Guy Fraker of Bloomington will be the guest speaker next month at the 89th annual dinner of the Half Century Club of Champaign County.

Tickets for the Oct. 29 event at Lincoln Square Village in Urbana are $25 per person. Dinner will be at 6 p.m., preceded by a social hour at 5:30 p.m. Call Norma Bean at 359-1360 with questions or to make reservations. The deadline to order tickets is Oct. 22.

Fraker's book, "Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit," has just been published by the Southern Illinois University Press. Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the dinner.

The club — an offshoot of the Old Settler's Club of Champaign County, which would meet once a year to renew acquaintances and relive the past — also will honor Kermit and Ann Harden as residents of distinction. Entertainment will be provided by The Girls Next Door, a female a capella singing group at the University of Illinois.

Marx Brothers centennial. We're approaching the 100th anniversary of the first appearance in Champaign of the famous Marx Brothers musical comedy group.

Ads in the Champaign papers called their vaudeville production of "Mr. Green's Reception" a "girly show," and hyped the dozen or so females in the show along with "a leavening of comedy." Top billing went not to Groucho Marx but to the oldest brother, Leonard (later known as Chico). Groucho (born Julius) had just turned 22 years old.

The Marx Brothers played three days in Champaign with nine shows, on Oct. 7, 8 and 9 at the Walker Opera House, located near the corner of Park and Neil streets. Tickets were 25 cents and 15 cents for the evening shows (at 7:30 and 9 p.m.), and 10 cents and 15 cents for the 3 p.m. matinee shows.

"Full of music and dancing, pretty stage pictures and abundant humor, the four Marx Brothers' tabloid musical comedy, 'Mr. Green's Reception,' is proving a hit at the Walker," read the newspaper stories on the show, which obviously were provided by publicists.

It would be about 10 years before the Marx Brothers became vaudeville stars and 17 years until they made their first movie, "The Coconuts."

Champaign high school. It's an interesting coincidence that the Champaign school board is discussing a new high school building this fall. Fifty years ago in October, Superintendent E.H. Mellon announced that the school district would hold a tax increase referendum to build a second high school in Champaign. Champaign High School was seriously overcrowded, Mellon said, and a second high school large enough to house 700 students would need to be built north of Jefferson Junior High School in Centennial Park.

Political events:

— State Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, will host a fundraiser for Champaign County auditor candidate John Farney, also a Republican, from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at the Philo Tavern. Tickets are $25 per person and $40 per couple. Tickets are available at the door or by calling 637-5468.

— Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, will be the special guest speaker at a Tuesday fundraiser for Katie Blakeman, the Republican candidate for Champaign County circuit court clerk. Tickets for the event, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Champaign Country Club, are $50 a person. Sponsorships are also available at a cost of $250, which includes an invitation to a 5:30 p.m. VIP reception. Tickets to the event may be purchased online at

— Radogno also will appear at a "meet and greet" at 4 p.m. Tuesday with 52nd Senate District candidate John Bambenek at Gino's Place at the Days Hotel in Danville.

— Joanne Chester and Dr. John Peterson will host a brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, for Barbara Wysocki, the Democratic candidate for Champaign County circuit court clerk. The suggested donation for the event at the Chester-Peterson home at 702 W. Pennsylvania Ave., U, is $30 for one person and $50 for two.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at