A series of political mailings that resemble newspapers and excoriate Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker over crime issues has prompted the governor to claim they’re the work of “racist political consultant” and right-wing radio show host Dan Proft, who also is financially supporting Republican governor candidate Darren Bailey.
The mailings, tailored to specific areas and sent to voters throughout Chicagoland under such labels as “Chicago City Wire,” “DuPage Policy Journal,” and “Will County Gazette,” are filled with purported news articles containing misinformation about the effects of criminal justice reforms enacted under Pritzker. The mailings contend the new law will free dangerous criminal suspects from jail and unleash them into the suburbs.
A recent two-page spread features photos of predominantly Black men the mailer states are “suspects” in violent crimes who could be released from local county jails and into “neighborhoods” under the state’s no-cash bail policy that goes into effect Jan. 1.
Under the new law, judges are to consider pretrial release on an individual basis, including those charged with murder, based on whether suspects are a risk to the community or a flight risk. The mailings state the new law “mandates” murder suspects awaiting trial be released from jail and gave a list of charges that it said were “non-detainable.”
“This is a messaging that’s coming from a racist political consultant, who used to associate himself with Illinois, now lives in Florida. And he’s sending messages that are, if you look at what he’s printed, it’s clearly all about the idea that, again, what he’s printing, that Black people are threatening your way of life. That’s essentially what he’s putting in these publications,” Pritzker said of Proft at an unrelated event in south suburban Harvey.
“It’s a scare tactic. It’s meant to have people (show) concern for their safety. And the truth of the matter is that what he’s purveying here is complete hogwash. I’m probably being polite when I say that. It’s disgusting. It’s a terrible thing to do,” he said. “And frankly, he’s doing it on behalf of Darren Bailey. And that says as much as you need to know about Darren Bailey.”
In an email reacting to Pritzker calling him “racist,” Proft said, “It’s like being called ugly by a frog.”
In a Twitter post, Proft said Pritzker “infuses race into every, single policy debate. He never deal on the merits, particularly on public safety. He signed the state’s death warrant with his no cash bail law.” He challenged Pritzker to name “one specific item in the newspaper you excoriate that is untrue or inaccurate.”
But in statements, supporters of the SAFE-T act and the Pretrial Fairness Act, as the cashless-bail portion is known, noted that any of those pictured as potential dangers to local communities could be released now if they posted bail.
“In the current system, the amount of money someone has determines whether they can be released — not whether they pose a threat to someone else or are likely to free prosecution,” the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice said in a statement.
Still, Proft’s use of the mailings was backed by Bailey, the downstate farmer and state senator from Xenia who has made crime the top issue in his Republican campaign for governor.
“These newspapers that are circulating the state that are full of facts and truth and Gov. Pritzker has the gall to call it a lie, to keep the people uninformed,” Bailey said in an interview on Proft’s “Chicago’s Morning Answer” show Thursday.
“With the help of … these newspapers that are circulating across the state, now they’ve got these facts in them. And it’s awesome because every day when people are receiving this, they’re texting me this information,” Bailey told Proft. “I mean, I’ve been trying to expel this and talk about this for two years, but it’s finally getting out and it’s finally resonating.”
The mailings represent the latest in a long line of controversies involving Proft, a radio host on WIND-AM 560 who now lives in Naples, Florida.
Proft heads the People Who Play By the Rules political action committee, an independent expenditure fund supporting Bailey that is primarily funded by millions of dollars from wealthy conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein, who founded the Uline office packaging and supply business.
Proft, who finished sixth out of seven candidates with less than 8% of the vote in a bid for the 2010 GOP governor nomination, has previously been cited by the State Board of Elections over similar newspaper-like mailers distributed by a previous PAC he ran. The state elections board found the Liberty Principles PAC wrongly coordinated with a candidate to spread favorable material and was required then to place a political advertising disclaimer on the materials. That PAC closed in 2019.
He opened the latest PAC in March of this year.
In 2018, Proft also was behind one of the most controversial political ads ever to air in Illinois on behalf of former state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton in a GOP primary challenge to one-term Gov. Bruce Rauner. The ad, formally denounced by the state Republican Party at the time, mocked transgender people, poor women seeking an abortion and unionized Chicago Public Schools teachers.
The mailers are the latest iteration of the Local Government Information Services, or LGIS, which publishes online and often during election season sends printed copies.
Proft formed LGIS before the 2016 general election. His current relationship to the company is unclear, though he has often defended its product.
Despite different names for the publications, all feature nearly identical stories that often showcase candidates or address issues that are supported by Proft’s political committee.
LGIS online sites have run several stories built around culture-war themes that are also preceded or followed by stories featuring comments about those issues from conservative politicians, including Bailey.
Some stories included a disparaging preview of Lake County PrideFest, a Machesney Park school district’s decision to ban the book “Gender Queer” and the raising of an LGBTQ flag by River Forest schoolchildren.
In the spring, the “West Cook News” used a presentation at an Oak Park and River Forest High School school board meeting to push a story that claimed the school was creating a race-based grading system that would require teachers “to account for the skin color or ethnicity of its students.”
Even though nothing in the presentation suggested such a policy, the story went viral online and gained a national audience through influencers and conservative media and forced school leaders to declare the story was false.
Another person behind LGIS is Brian Timpone, a former spokesman for the Illinois House Republican minority leader in the 1990s who went on to own a company that provided hyperlocal news to the Tribune until the newspaper suspended the arrangement amid complaints of plagiarism and fake bylines.
A 2018 Tribune investigation found many LGIS stories featured candidates supported by Proft’s political committee.
On Wednesday, Pritzker said the mailings were an effort by “this right-wing network of newspapers” trying to “take over where local real journalism, unfortunately, has receded.”
“If you get something in the mail and you don’t know that it’s from the far-right wing and people who align themselves with the semi-fascists, as President Biden has called them, then you might think that’s something real. it’s not, When you get one of these in the mail, you should know that that is not a real newspaper,” he said.
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September 9, 2022 at 05:09AM