McCain's False Claims On Bill Ayers

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, speaks as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., listens during a townhall-style presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008.
A recent web advertisement from Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain makes two false claims about a connection between Bill Ayers and Senator Barack Obama.

1. "Ayers and Obama ran a radical education foundation, together."

The foundation they are referring to is the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), set up in the early 1990's with funding from the Annenberg Foundation to reform public schools. Walter Annenberg is a well-known philanthropist and conservative Republican.

"This was not the Bill Ayers and Barack Obama show," says Ken Rolling who was the Executive Director of the CAC and ran the organization, "It was not created by two people, it was created by a hundred people."

Was it radical? Rolling says that's in the eyes of the beholder, but he confirms that the CAC funded programs with the following purpose: teacher training, music education, support for new school council candidates, afterschool programs, education research, improvements for literacy and arts programs and initiatives to strengthen parental involvement in public schools.

"The idea that the Annenberg Challenge was somehow the extension of the Weather Underground of the 1960's, that is just one of the most lunatic contentions I can imagine," says Mike Flannery, political editor at the CBS Chicago affiliate WBBM who has covered Chicago politics for 35 years.

Flannery says the other people on involved in the CAC with Obama and Ayers were "business types and Republicans."

Obama chaired the board of the CAC but he did not serve on the board with Ayers. Ayers served on a separate advisory board.

2. "They wrote the foundation's bylaws together."

"They didn't sit over a coffee table somewhere and say 'let's do it this way,' they were involved with a large group of people," Rolling says, "They did not actually write them."

Rolling says Ayers served on a voluntary advisory board that hired a lawyer to write the bylaws that were eventually approved by the entire board of directors - one of the votes for the bylaws came from Obama.

Flannery says the negative attention that is being paid to the CAC is mystifying to Chicago reporters, "Those of us who have covered politics in Chicago the way I have for 35 years simply don't recognize the caricatures and the ridiculous descriptions of this group."

By Laura Strickler