CHAMPAIGN — Reaction to Rep. Tim Johnson's request for a "cease-fire" from negative television ads in the 13th Congressional District race has been less than enthusiastic.
Neither the Republican nor Democratic candidates has embraced the idea, and both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee indicated they'll continue to use attack ads in the new congressional district that runs from Champaign-Urbana southwest to the Edwardsville and Collinsville areas in southwestern Illinois.
In fact, the DCCC made a $238,669 media buy on Tuesday — the day the retiring Republican congressman made his request — for more ads opposing Republican candidate Rodney Davis of Taylorville. The DCCC now has invested $805,791 in the 13th District race, almost half of the $2 million that six separate superPACs have spent in the district since August.
"We stand by our ads," said Haley Morris, a spokeswoman for the DCCC.
The Republican congressional PAC also indicated it would not abide by Johnson's request. It has spent more than $330,000 on ads opposing Democrat David Gill.
"Bottom line, David Gill and his extremely partisan policies are bad for Illinois families," said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the NRCC.
Johnson, an Urbana Republican, Tuesday asked the candidates and the superPACS to stop the negative campaigning.
In letters to both the NRCC and the DCCC he wrote that the ideological differences between Gill and Davis "speak for themselves. Let that guide voters. Not fractional truths. Not distortions. Not character assaults."
The Davis campaign didn't respond to Johnson's suggestion directly, only offering a quote from retired Congressman Tom Ewing of Pontiac, who said he is "proud of the way Rodney has conducted himself during an onslaught of false and negative ads."
The Gill campaign provided a letter from the candidate to Johnson in which he said he was "disappointed by the negative tone of these superPACs," but made no promise to try to stop the negative ads.
Johnson likewise said Wednesday that he was "disappointed in the response" from the candidates and the party groups, "but I'm not going to engage in a dialogue with them."
The congressman said the response he's received in person and at his office "has been uniformly positive. I think I spoke for the majority of the people in this district and we'll just leave it to the candidates to determine what their response is going to be."
But Johnson's request met with ridicule from a past political ally.
State Appellate Court Justice Robert Steigmann, appearing on the WDWS-AM talk show "Penny for Your Thoughts," hit hard at Johnson for what he called "moralistic preening."
Later, Steigmann said, "I mentioned that Tim Johnson was using the bully pulpit to send a message of his moral superiority to David Gill and Rodney Davis. And I had a message in turn for Tim Johnson, which was good riddance."
Steigmann suggested that "his own congressional committee is laughing at (Johnson)."
"I was singularly unimpressed with his observations," said Steigmann. "For instance, he said it was just not believable that the candidates have no control over the superPACs funding. The problem is that federal law absolutely prohibits any coordination of any kind between superPACs and the candidates."
Even if the candidates held a joint press conference to decry the negative ads, Steigmann said, "What's the point of that? That's going to make these people stop? You can't coordinate activities or efforts and that, aside from being likely ineffectual, would be something that might very well constitute a violation of federal law."
Steigmann also blamed Johnson for helping create superPACs by his vote for what he called the "odious" McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
"I've been speaking against that for years and how it's an affront to the First Amendment, and he voted for it," he said. "There were no superPACs before McCain-Feingold. Tim Johnson and the others who voted for it were going to take big money out of politics. How's that working out?"
Steigmann said he hasn't been involved in Republican politics for more than 10 years and said he last considered Johnson a political ally in the 1990s.
"I haven't had occasion to be involved as an ally of anyone. I'm running for nothing," he said. "I have no dog in this fight except I don't like moralistic preening and I think Rodney Davis and David Gill both deserve better."
But Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois-Springfield professor emeritus, had a kinder view of Johnson's request.
"Johnson has been his own person for a long time. He's been hard to characterize. It's unusual for a retiring congressman to do this but it's not necessarily out of character with the way that Johnson has presented himself in his career," Redfield said.
"It's a nice sentiment but it overstates the control that the two candidates have over either the money from the congressional campaigns or the superPACS. Those groups care about the district in terms of control of Congress. They don't necessarily care about how effectively whoever wins can govern or represent the district. I'm doubtful that the candidates, even if they wanted to, would be able to have much impact on it."