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Informed Voter: Truth vs. Fiction In Campaign Ads

Scott Walker/YouTube, Tony Evers/YouTube
When it comes to campaign ads, how can you tell truth from fiction?

Election Day is weeks away, but one thing is almost assured: the war of attack ads will continue to heat up in the coming days. And that’s where we start our Informed Voter series  — a collaboration between WUWM and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to answer questions texted to us from potential Wisconsin voters.

Beatrice in Washington County wants to know:

“Where can I find out if the claims that candidates make against their opponents in their ads are accurate?”

When it comes to campaign ads, it’s hard to tell what's true.

“There always has to be a grain of truth or else the people that are making the ads can get in trouble and the ads will have to be taken off the air,” says Molly Beck, state politics reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Unfortunately, there is no one spot to fact-check all campaign ads. Beck says that you either must do your own research or turn to local media.

“Really, it’s just a matter of relying on your local media. From my perspective, I think that’s the best source of understanding the whole story when you see stuff,” she says.

In the spirit of being accurately informed, let’s look at two separate topics that have appeared in ads for both gubernatorial candidates — Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tony Evers. Then, we’ll give you more context to see if the ads hold up.

Teacher Pornography Case

Walker's ad: It claims that as state superintendent, Evers failed to protect children from a teacher who viewed pornography at work.

Background: Evers said, and continues to say, he couldn’t revoke the license of the teacher because students never saw the material the teacher was viewing. Under state law at the time of the incident, which happened about 10 years ago in Middleton, a teacher’s license could be revoked if students were harmed or affected by the material. No student saw the material, so Evers, legally, couldn’t take away the teacher’s license. But Evers did object to the teacher’s behavior.

Just before it was decided that the teacher’s license couldn’t be revoked, Beck says state law changed allowing Evers the ability to cancel the teacher’s license.

Evers' ad: The ad implies that Tony Evers was the one leading the cause to change the law that prevented him from removing the teacher’s license.

Background: That’s not the case, Beck says. While she wasn’t working in Wisconsin at the time of this incident, based on her research it’s incorrect to claim that Evers was leading the charge to change that law.

“It looks like that effort was led by a group of Republican lawmakers. But Tony Evers did work with them on changing the law and he did support the law change,” Beck says.

READ BECK'S REPORTING:Tony Evers and Scott Walker are fighting over a teacher who looked at porn at school — here's the rest of the story

Participate in the Informed Voter series by texting 'election' to 414-269-6404. Once you get a response, then you can text us your election-related questions.
Affordable Health Care

Peggy from Greendale wants to know more behind the ads addressing pre-existing conditions:

“I’d like to know how Gov. Walker can be claiming that he’s addressing pre-existing conditions at the same time the state is in a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, they are diametrically opposed.”

Evers’ ad: It claims that Walker has worked to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) and undermine its protections for pre-existing conditions. 

Walker's ad: The ad claims that Walker wants to continue to maintain protections for pre-existing conditions.

Background: Walker did approve a lawsuit that Attorney General Brad Schimel joined that would remove the protections from the Affordable Care Act, if successful. Also, Walker did call for legislation last year that would ensure those protections if that lawsuit was successful.

Beck says, “[Walker] says that there are other parts of the ACA that he doesn’t like, but that particular part is something that Wisconsin can ensure goes forward even without that law in place.”

Basically, Walker is making the case that the federal government shouldn’t be playing the role of requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, but the state government could.

READ BECK'S REPORTING: Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, a cancer survivor, pushes back on ad suggesting pre-existing conditions protections are in jeopardy