(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker didn't answer questions Wednesday about why the Vote Yes For Fairness campaign spent more than $10,000 with Facebook to promote a fake tweet in an effort to persuade voters to support a progressive income tax amendment.
Pritzker has given $56.5 million to Vote Yes For Fairness, which is working to persuade voters to change the state's flat income tax to a progressive income tax system with higher rates for higher earners. Voters will decide on the constitutional amendment on Nov. 3.
On Oct. 9, Vote Yes For Fairness shared a screenshot on Facebook of a tweet from @Liz_Uihlein. The Uihlein family owns Uline, one of the largest companies in Illinois. Vote Yes For Fairness also spent between $10,000 and $15,000 to promote the fake tweet on Facebook, with a potential reach of more than 1 million people, according to publicly available information from the social media giant.
The fake account purportedly belonged to Liz Uihlein, president of Uline. But Liz Uihlein said through a spokesperson that the Twitter account was fake. The account soon was removed from Twitter. But Vote Yes For Fairness kept its Facebook ad promotion of the fake tweet going through Tuesday, several days after it was disavowed.
The Center Square on Wednesday asked Pritzker: "Do you feel it is dishonest for an organization that you are funding to promote a fake tweet? Would you have taken down the advertising immediately after the [Twitter] account was deleted?"
Pritzker didn't answer the questions.
"Well, I think we all know that people who are supporting the vote no campaign are essentially working against the middle class, working against people who can least afford to pay the taxes that people on the other side would like them to pay – for them, by the way," the governor said in response. "And so, that's why I'm on the other side. I think that we ought to be fighting for working-class families, for working families all across the state, it's why I've been a significant supporter of the Vote Yes campaign."
The campaign's Facebook page has spent $2,556,696 since 2018 on ads about social issues, elections or politics, according to Facebook, including the $10,000 to $15,000 on the fake tweet ad.
The fake tweet meant to look like it came from Liz Uihlein said: “Why should I be expected to subsidize my employees’ taxes? They don’t need a handout from me, they already get a paycheck. Vote NO on the tax hike amendment. #FairTax #FairTax Now”
The paid Facebook promotion ad from the Vote Yes for Fairness campaign treated the tweet as if it were real.
"This is how opponents of the Fair Tax think of hardworking Illinoisans," the ad said. "Billionaires like Liz Uihlein don’t care about our middle and lower-income families – they only care about protecting their bottom line. That’s why they’re fighting to stop the Fair Tax, which would make them finally pay their fair share, while giving a tax cut to 97% of Illinoisans."
The fake twitter account was removed shortly after the tweet was posted.
"The alleged Liz Uihlein Twitter account was a fake account, and that Liz Uihlein has never had a Twitter account," said Ellie O’Neil, a publicist with Mueller Communications LLC. "After being reported to Twitter, the fake account has been removed by Twitter for impersonation."
On Tuesday, National Federation of Independent Business Illinois State Director Mark Grant, who opposes the tax change as negatively impacting small businesses, said the propagation of fake information in this debate was troubling.
"In this day and age, now, with all the various things that can be manipulated, this is really concerning for us," Grant said.