The fact that the governor's campaign was monitoring my blog wasn't exactly news to me. I had figured that all the campaigns were keeping an eye on the blog and were posting comments both on behalf of their candidates and against their opponents. The blog gets thousands of visits a day and has attracted the attention of just about every high-profile campaign in the state, so I knew some of the comments posted were likely from campaign offices.
I had also noticed that loads of facts and figures were all of a sudden appearing in the comments section in reaction to Republican Judy Baar Topinka's gubernatorial candidacy. Before I was even told about the monitoring project, I figured that some sort of rapid reaction force had been created, which I thought was a good idea.
But then I moved my blog to its new Web site, at which I could more easily monitor who was posting comments by matching commenters with their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. In fact, that was the main reason for moving the blog. I was pretty sick of all the nastiness in the comment section and wanted to ban certain words from appearing (mostly really bad swear words) and also ban people from posting (mostly those who use those sorts of words).
I moved the blog a couple of weeks ago, and traffic was understandably light on that first day, so I was playing around with the settings and, out of curiosity, seeing if I could discern who was posting.
A commenter named "Right of Right," who had been posting at my old blog site, posted a comment that first day supporting ultra-conservative Republican Jim Oberweis' gubernatorial bid, claiming that Oberweis could beat Topinka and "get the governors [sic] office back in republican [sic] control."
I clicked on Right of Right's IP address, and lo and behold it was listed as "Blagojevich for Governor." That meant the pro-Oberweis commenter was using a computer located at the governor's Northwest Side campaign headquarters.
Right of Right posted several more times that week, blasting "do nothing" state workers, supporting the governor's borrowing plans, claiming, "The only one who can bring reform, and who represents the true conservative values of the republican [sic] party is Jim Oberweis!" and saying that the Republican candidates "are making me ashamed to be a republican [sic] in Illinois." Right of Right also called Topinka a "gay loving, gun hating, tax raising insider."
I had just written a column about how I thought that Blagojevich might try to influence the Republican primary to help a conservative defeat the more moderate Topinka, so I thought this was all fairly interesting.
Another commenter, "Your Neighbor," was also listed as posting from the governor's campaign office. This character openly supported Blagojevich, but also had some harsh things to say when I ran an excerpt from a newspaper column by Chuck Goudie (an investigative reporter) about how the governor put his name on those big new tollway signs.
"Goudie clearly has it in for the governor," Your Neighbor wrote last week. "He is a bottom feeder who hasnt [sic] done a worthwhile bit of journalism in his life. He is a talentless hack." Ouch.
So who are "Right of Right" and "Your Neighbor"? The governor's campaign claimed they didn't know. "Nobody has been told to pose as anybody they are not," said spokesperson Doug Scofield, who added that "a lot of volunteers" come in and out of the office.
Maybe, but the Blagojevich campaign commenters managed to stay pretty tightly on message, despite Scofield's contention that the commenters were likely random volunteers.
Just to be on the safe side, if I were an editorial-page editor, I think I'd double-check any pro-Oberweis letters that crossed my desk before I put them in the paper. You never know.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.thecapitolfaxblog.com).