Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday defended a television ad paid for by the Democratic Governors Association that attacks one of the Republican challengers for governor as “simply telling the truth.”
The ad, which was released last week, attacks Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin for his years as a criminal defense attorney. Irvin, who has the backing of billionaire hedge-fund chief Ken Griffin, has made blaming Pritzker for increasing crime a central point of his campaign.
“Richard Irvin's real record on crime? For 15 years, Irvin has been a defense lawyer profiting by defending some of the most violent and heinous criminals ...,” the ad's narrator says. “Irvin has been getting rich by putting violent criminals back on our streets.”
Pritzker, himself a billionaire who has donated more than $2.3 million to the DGA since 2017, made his first comments about the ad Tuesday at a bill-signing ceremony in his state Capitol office.
“It’s important that Democrats be involved in telling the truth out there and when it comes to what the DGA's doing here in Illinois, they’re simply telling the truth, which is more than the Irvin campaign can say,” Pritzker said.
Republicans have knocked Pritzker for the ad because everyone accused of a crime is entitled to a competent defense. They say it is hypocritical for Pritzker to criticize Irvin's record as a defense lawyer after last year signing a criminal justice overhaul that set strict standards for police behavior and initiated pro-defendant reforms such as the elimination of cash bail. The law, he said, would help eliminate “systemic racism” and move "us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice.”
Irvin, who was not made available for an interview Tuesday, said in a statement last week that Pritzker “would do anything to win.”
“Pritzker is trying to hijack the Republican primary because he can’t run from the facts: Crime is out of control, tax hikes continue, and corruption lives on in state government under Pritzker’s reign,” Irvin said.
Kent Redfield, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield and a campaign finance expert, said outside groups such as the DGA rarely try to influence an opposition primary campaign.
“They’re trying to affect things strategically,” Redfield said. “It’s not unprecedented, but it’s unusual.”
It’s likely the idea is to soften up Irvin, said Redfield, in favor of a candidate such as state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, whom Pritzker fans consider more beatable. His money advantage makes Irvin, whose resume also includes a stint as a prosecuting attorney, the front-runner in the June 28 primary.
There’s nothing illegal about the ad or the way it was executed, Redfield said, but Pritzker “putting money into a second group and having that group spend the money on your behalf is something less than maximum transparency.”
Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor