Determining right from wrong in politics is a tricky thing, because often campaigns have completely different definitions for what is right or wrong on issues.
Tax cuts. Government spending. Climate change. You name the issue. Democrats and Republicans can (and do) claim they are right and the other side is wrong because of differing ideology.
Now, on the question of whether somebody was in a specific city, on a specific day, doing a specific thing --THAT is easier. Not subject to interpretation. It's fact...or it's not.
That's what the campaign for Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias did recently.
The campaign's general counsel, Michael Dorf, last Friday, October 15, held a news conference announcing a Bush administration Justice Department official, Hans von Spakovsky, had been in Chicago the previous day. The press release from the Giannoulias campaign read "von Spakovsky was recruiting attorneys" for Republican candidate Mark Kirk's campaign for a "(Karl) Rove-like voter intimidation program on Election Day".
Dorf said at the news conference, "(von Spakovsky's) here in Chicago training lawyers."
Later Dorf added that von Spakovsky's presence was a form of proof that, "they're using voter intimidation tactics they've used in other states."
As it turns out, von Spakovsky was in Chicago on October 14. At a meeting of a local chapter of the conservative Federalist Society, von Spakovsky spoke about the history of fraud in American elections. According to his prepared remarks, von Spakovsky also suggested what the current Justice Department could do under existing law to further insure the integrity of the U.S. voter system.
Now, Kirk has been hurt recently after an audio recording from a conference call was leaked. On the call Kirk appeared to be bragging about a "voter integrity program" which would pay particular attention to the South and West sides and Metro East portions of Chicago and Rockford. All of these areas have significant minority populations.
But to the very specific point on whether von Spakovsky was recruiting or training attorneys for the Kirk campaign, von Spakovsky's himself says "absolutely not."
In a telephone interview, von Spakovsky told Fox News the first he had heard about a Kirk campaign initiative to watch Illinois polling places was after he had concluded his remarks when an attorney at the gathering asked him about it."I don't know Kirk. I have not spoken to him. I don't consult with him. I do not work for candidates," said von Spakovsky.
Corroborating von Spakovsky's account of his appearance is Christine Svenson, who organized the event. She says at no time did von Spakovsky recruit or instruct on behalf of any campaign (Svenson did offer that she does assist the Illinois Republican Party).
And when Mark Kirk was asked if von Spakovsky did any sort of work for his Senate campaign, the candidate replied, "I don't know who he is."
It would appear Dorf and the Giannoulias campaign were right about von Spakovsky being in Chicago, but got his connection to the Kirk campaign wrong.
That may not be the last we hear of this.
Von Spakovski shared with Fox News an e-mail sent to Dan McDonald of the Giannoulias campaign threatening a lawsuit over the false allegation.
"I am warning you that you have already committed libel by making totally false statements about me. If you make such statements at a press conference, you will be committing slander...if you persist in making such false statements, you will leave me no option other than legal action against you personally and anyone else at your campaign who has been involved in this."
So far, von Spakovsky has not initiated any legal action and the Giannoulias campaign has yet to explain how they misconnected von Spakovsky to the Kirk campaign.
Steve Brown is an author, radio broadcaster and seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.