Negative ads, lawsuits mark end of 14th district race

March 7, 2008 3:50:15 PM PST
Complaints about negative ads and a lawsuit are issues in a special election Saturday in the west suburban 14th congressional district. Democrat Bill Foster and Republican Jim Oberweis are running to fill the term of retired House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The outcome of the contest doesn't appear to be the end of the battle between the two candidates.

Oberweis is probably best known for the popular dairy that bears his name and the less-than-popular way that he's handled the issue of illegal immigration in past campaigns. So it is probably fitting that this down-and-dirty race in the far west suburban congressional district that Hastert represented for 21 years is ending with a dispute between the dairy and Foster's Democratic friends in Washington D.C.

The Oberweis Dairy is now run by Oberweis' son Joe, who is suing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for allegedly maligning the family business in a series of mailers and TV ads that accuse the dairy of hiring undocumented immigrants.

"The DCCC is trying to get the public to believe that Oberweis Dairy is hiring illegal aliens, and we don't. We haven't. That's just simply not true," said Joe Oberweis, dairy president.

"The lawsuit is completely frivolous," said Jennifer Cirder, DCCC. "The DCCC ad is completely true and accurate."

The ads and the mailers are based on videotape provided by an immigrant rights group three years ago of undocumented workers who cleaned Oberweis Dairy stores for only half of the minimum wage.

"There were in fact illegal immigrants that were working at Oberweis Dairy stores," said Crider.

The dairy denied responsibility at the time because the workers were hired and paid by a cleaning sub-contractor that operated independently.

"I'm sure all of your viewers have seen the ads, all gotten mailers, heard radio ads, and it's just patently false, so it goes too far. At some point, Oberweis Dairy has to stand up and say, has to stand up and defend our own interests, said Joe Oberweis.

But the immigrant rights group still doesn't buy that, claiming that Oberweis has been fanning the flames of anti-immigration sentiment for years.

"Jim Oberweis has made a career of bashing illegal immigrants, but at the same time, undocumented workers were helping to build his fortune by cleaning his stores," said Josh Hoyt, Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

On Friday, the DCCC answered the Oberweis lawsuit by filing a complaint with federal election officials accusing the Oberweis Dairy of helping his campaign, which is illegal. The FEC fined Oberweis $21,000 for the same offense in his 2003 race for the U.S. Senate. But Joe Oberwes says the lawsuit was his idea, not his dad's, and it's about business not politics.