Attack ads: How voters can determine what's fact, what's fiction

Ad targeting US Rep. Ron DeSantis now airing on TV stations

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the 2018 race for Florida governor heats up this spring, the first of what are expected to be dozens of negative television advertisements have started to appear on the air, including on Channel 4.

One ad targets U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Northeast Florida Republican who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor.

News4Jax on Thursday looked at how the ad is put together, and how voters can determine what's fact and what's fiction.

The ad, which began airing this week on local TV stations, was paid for by the National Liberty Federation, and it makes strong accusations against DeSantis: "Special interests get millions. He gets tens of thousands, and their condo."

Bert Ralston is a professional campaign consultant who's known for creating ads and analyzing them. 

"It's always important to look past what they're saying to who they're trying to say it to and why they're saying it," Ralston said.

News4Jax asked the political consultant, "How do I decide who's talking to me?"

"That's a great question," Ralston replied. "In Florida, political committees are allowed to fully coordinate with campaigns. So one may believe that this was done on behalf of Adam Putnam, or it could be, you know, could be done on behalf of someone that's yet to announce."

Ralston said the ad clearly tries to draw a direct line between DeSantis and special interests and reciprocal favors.

Is that true? Ralston puts the onus on you to find out.

"Don't rely on guys like me to mold your opinion," he said. "I always encourage people to do what my mother told me to do when I was in third grade: 'Do your homework.' Make your own decision. Be an educated voter."

News4Jax did some research, but it remains murky at best.

Individuals can give a maximum of $3,000 to campaigns, but there’s no limit on what they can give to a political action committee.

  • “Friends of Ron DeSantis” received a contribution of $500,000 from Richard Uihlein. He has a business, Uline packing supplies. He was also labeled by Politico, “The biggest Republican mega-donor you’ve never heard of.” Is he the “special interests” the ad refers to? 
  • “Fund for Florida’s Future” made a $2 million contribution and then another nearly $500,000 gift. That political action committee lists a Jacksonville address -- the same address as Foley & Lardner downtown. That law firm told News4Jax it serves as legal counsel to the committee.
  • “Fighting for Florida” made a $300,000 donation. The political action committee also lists Foley & Lardner -- and that’s also the legal counsel for the fund.
  • Foley & Lardner also serves as legal counsel for the DeSantis campaign.

Brad Herold, campaign manager of "DeSantis for Governor," sent News4Jax the following statement: 

This is a politically motivated smear tactic by the same group who’s already been called out by numerous media outlets for their false attacks.  We’ve actually already gotten some of their ads pulled off the air."

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