Illinois lawmaker hopes to ban false statements in political advertising

Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 5:32 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - An Illinois House Democrat has filed a proposal that could prohibit people from using false or misleading statements to affect the outcomes of political campaigns. Rep. Denyse Wang Stoneback (D-Skokie) said Monday that people are exhausted from the misinformation and divisiveness they have seen in recent elections.

She hopes to combat misleading statements and mudslinging by updating the prohibitions and penalties article of the Illinois Election Code. Under her plan, people could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for knowingly and recklessly making, publishing, broadcasting, or circulating false or misleading statements about candidates or elected officials. Anyone violating the change could also be sued civilly.

“All of this disinformation and hateful language is really resulting in disgusted and frustrated voters, that I think we’ve all seen, and it’s causing the public to become distrustful of government and politics in general,” Stoneback said. “This is a dangerous thing for our democracy.”

Stoneback said there are similar laws blocking misinformation and false campaign statements in 27 states. Illinois has a Code of Fair Campaign Practices in place, but it is voluntary. Stoneback noted that her bill would make that ethical practice mandatory for anyone running for office.

“If a candidate fails to file a completed copy of the Code with their county clerk within five days, the candidate’s name may not appear on the ballot,” Stoneback said. “Anyone who signs and files the Code of Campaign Practices and violates the rules would commit a Class A misdemeanor.”

Stoneback feels that misinformation has distorted people’s views about consequential issues. She said voters have been manipulated by unethical people trying to change the outcomes of political campaigns.

The efforts became more obvious during the 2022 election cycle when failed politician and conservative radio host Dan Proft’s political organization crafted campaign mailers that looked like actual newspapers. People first saw the fake newspapers pop up in Chicago and the collar counties, but residents in Central and Southern Illinois also dealt with the partisan pink slime weeks before the General Election.

Stoneback’s proposal could prohibit people from circulating letters, advertisements or posters with false statements about candidates or ballot questions. Candidates and political organizations would be blocked from making misleading statements about a candidate’s education, professional or vocational licenses, mental health, or criminal misconduct, among others.

The Democrat said House Bill 5850 will also prohibit libel and defamation in political advertisements to encourage honesty, transparency and civility in Illinois politics.

“I think most people are good people and want to see honest ethical candidates elected to office,” Stoneback said. “And the misinformation, the lies and all the nastiness get in the way of making this happen.”

Stoneback said her bill should receive bipartisan support because she believes there are ethical people on both sides of the aisle. She stressed that everyone should want to see a shift toward more ethical campaigns and increased civic engagement. Political observers frequently note that Illinois lawmakers should pass more ethics reforms.

Stoneback said this could be a great move in the right direction.

“I think this is an important piece of ethics reform,” Stoneback said. “We still have much more to do. With one step at a time, hopefully, we will get there. I hope that all voters in Illinois look to the best side of politics and encourage their elected officials to fight for change in the right direction.”

The proposal has not been assigned to a committee at this time.

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