ILLINOIS (WMBD) — The November election is just two months away, and that means campaign ads are now hitting your TV screens once again.
This week, an ad by the House Majority PAC hit airwaves attacking Esther Joy King, the Republican candidate for Illinois’ 17th Congressional District.
“She’s a fraud! A liar!” The ad starts out.
These are strong words for the first week of the political window headed into November’s election.
Illinois’ 17th District is shaping up to be one of the hottest Congressional races in the entire nation as voters watch the race between Republican Esther Joy King and Democrat Eric Sorensen.
The ad we’re looking at in this Truth Test, pushed out by the House Majority PAC (HMP), makes three major claims attacking Esther Joy King.
Claim 1: “Esther Joy King claims she ran three companies, but there’s little evidence they exist!” a woman from Rock Island said.
Citing a Politico article from October 2020, the three companies in question are 364 Social, GRP21, and Flashbulb Media.
Politico’s Illinois Playbook claimed they couldn’t find “364.social” online in the article, which was the same when WMBD investigated this week.
The article states King told Playbook the company had folded into GRP21, which Playbook said “also has next-to-no presence online” either.
WMBD asked King about this matter, to which her spokeswoman responded:
“Before she was a JAG Officer in the U.S. Army, Esther was an independent consultant who was working to start her own digital marketing firm. Like so many entrepreneurs, she changed the name of her consulting firm. She started with the name Flashbulb Media then changed it to 364 Social, and then eventually folded 364 Social into GRP21,” said Ashley Phelps of the Esther Joy King Campaign.
The campaign sent me the 1099 from GRP21, although they stated King is no longer involved.
Claim 2: “She claims to serve on the board of a nonprofit. But get this: there’s no public record anywhere,” the second group of speakers said.
But, there is.
The House Majority PAC claims King listed herself as a board member of Simone’s Kids, a nonprofit based in Georgia.
The PAC looked at Form 990s on back to 2016, with no findings of her being a board member. This is true, but if they would have gone back one more year, they might’ve seen different.
In response to my request, the Founder & President provided proof King was a board member of the nonprofit, from May 2015 to May 2016. She provided multiple meeting minutes with her name in attendance.
“Esther continues to be a great friend of our charity and she was a devoted member of our board. I’m disappointed anyone would suggest otherwise,” said Simone Pucenelli, Founder and President of Simone’s Kids.
Claim 3: “The one job she did have inflated her title, and fired in less than a year,” the ad claimed.
This is a 2-parter. The “inflated her title” claim comes from a 2020 interview she did with Your Local Election Headquarters where she states she was the Director of Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Technology for the State of Illinois.
This is mirrored on her LinkedIn page, where, to this day, it still says that.
The House Majority PAC claims she was the Deputy Director, and by saying that she was the Director, she was “inflating her title.”
The HMP’s claim was based off an application King sent to become the Senior Advisor To The Director Of Commerce.
WMBD pressed the King campaign on this.
King’s campaign spokesperson said “It wasn’t deliberate. It was an oversight.”
The second part of the claim said King was fired. This is true.
The DCEO confirmed to WMBD King was terminated. King’s campaign told WMBD that her employment was terminated during the Rauner Administration for ‘poor cultural fit.’
While claim one isn’t necessarily false, it may not be as sinister as the ad makes it out to be.
The King campaign was able to provide proof in paperwork, showing the company did actually exist. But, each company is practically non-existent online.
The second claim about the nonprofit appears to be a case of not fully doing your homework.
A quick call or email to Simone’s Kids’ Founder could have easily answered the PAC’s question. Looking back one more year could have shown she actually was involved in the organization. This claim is false.
The third claim is a tricky one. Her being fired was true, and as mentioned before, it is something that King’s campaign admitted.
Although in a previous interview, King told Your Local Election Headquarters she and the Department decided to “split ways.”
There are some aspects of the ad that are true, one claim that is misleading, and some gray areas in between.