Dan Proft’s questionable involvement with Darren Bailey’s campaign – Chicago Tribune

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An internal dispute between Republican governor candidate Darren Bailey’s campaign and a recently departed Bailey political worker has raised questions about the level of involvement the conservative leader of a Bailey-aligned political action committee has had with the Bailey campaign.

At issue is an attempt by Dan Proft, a longtime Republican operative and onetime losing candidate for Illinois governor, to inject himself into a potential legal settlement being sought by Brett Corrigan, a Bailey family friend who worked for the campaign for more than a year before leaving around mid-September. Corrigan’s attorney described his client’s complaint as an “internal HR,” or human resources, matter but didn’t provide any additional details.

Dan Proft is interviewed on Nov. 11, 2009, by a Tribune columnist.

Dan Proft is interviewed on Nov. 11, 2009, by a Tribune columnist. (Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune)

Proft, a resident of Naples, Florida, runs the People Who Play By the Rules PAC, which opposes Democrat J.B. Pritzker’s bid for reelection and is almost solely funded by conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein to the tune of $42 million.

The political committee is an independent expenditure PAC and, by law, is not supposed to coordinate its spending activities with Bailey’s campaign. But the apparent efforts by Proft, who also co-hosts a conservative radio show in which Bailey has been a frequent guest, to try to intercede in a potential legal matter involving Bailey indicate he may be playing a larger role than previously acknowledged.

Proft also is involved in political mailers disguised as newspapers that have been sent to thousands of homes across the state, disseminating disinformation to disparage Pritzker. In 2016, a similar mailing effort funded by a former Proft independent expenditure PAC was cited by the Illinois State Board of Elections for illegal coordination with candidates.

Corrigan declined to comment and referred all questions to his attorney, Scott Kaspar of Orland Park. Kaspar said Corrigan attended Bailey’s private Full Armor Christian Academy in downstate Louisville, Illinois, and lived with Bailey’s family on their farm in nearby Xenia. Corrigan on the campaign trail served largely as a “body man” for the Republican governor candidate, who is also a state senator, closely following Bailey at events and assisting Bailey as he needed. Since June 2021, state campaign finance records show, he was paid $18,861 by Bailey’s campaign.

But around mid-September, Corrigan left Bailey’s campaign — whether he was fired or left on his own is a matter of dispute, his attorney said. Corrigan now serves a similar role for GOP attorney general candidate Tom DeVore, whose campaign Corrigan joined almost immediately after leaving Bailey’s.

In an interview, DeVore said he was aware of a dispute between Corrigan and Bailey’s campaign and that the two sides were trying to reconcile their differences. DeVore had no comment when asked about any involvement by Proft.

After leaving Bailey’s campaign, Corrigan retained Kaspar to pursue a proposed confidential financial settlement agreement with the Republican governor candidate’s campaign over the reasons for his departure.

During those negotiations, Proft weighed in, apparently in an effort to quash the filing of a possible lawsuit in the matter that could become public and hurt Bailey’s chances.

Publications under a variety of names that are all tied to conservative political operative Dan Proft have been mailed to thousands of homes throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

Publications under a variety of names that are all tied to conservative political operative Dan Proft have been mailed to thousands of homes throughout Chicago and the suburbs. (Todd Panagopoulos / Chicago Tribune)

On Oct. 23, Proft contacted Kaspar, first through a phone call the attorney did not return, then through a series of text messages. The Tribune viewed the text messages and verified they came from a phone number that Proft uses.

“Scott. Dan Proft. Can you give me a call?” began a message to Kaspar. Kaspar replied, “Hi Dan. What is this concerning?” Proft replied, “The rumors I’m hearing about some complaint you’re planning on filing against Bailey.”

Kasper did not respond.

After a period of time, Proft texted “And?” to the lawyer. Kaspar continued to be nonresponsive, prompting Proft to text, “OK then. Go ahead. Please file it.”

Kaspar eventually replied, “Dan, I don’t ordinarily talk about legal matters with third parties, and particularly with members of the Press. It also is my understanding that you are the head of a PAC that is supporting Sen. Bailey’s candidacy. The campaign is represented by counsel, and communication on my end has to go through counsel.”

Proft replied, “We can talk off the record. And, yes, I have no involvement with the campaign. It will be in the press when you file it. Already had an inquiry from a legal journal. So don’t see any canons being threatened here.”

Kaspar did not respond.

Kaspar, who shared Proft’s text messages with the Tribune, said he was “confident” the issue of a settlement between Bailey’s campaign and Corrigan “will be resolved.” But he said he was “disheartened that confidential settlement materials are finding their way to the press and otherwise.”

“Dan is a member of the press. He’s the chair of an independent expenditure committee” supporting Bailey, Kaspar said. “It’s surprising to me that he would be aware of this internal HR matter and would be contacting me.”

Given the confidential nature of the negotiations with Bailey’s campaign, Kaspar said he didn’t know where Proft learned of the matter. But after being contacted by Proft, Kaspar said, “My initial thought was that he wanted to intimidate me.”

“It’s Dan Proft. In the conservative Chicago circles, Dan Proft is a thing. He calls you up, you listen,” said Kaspar, who in June unsuccessfully ran to be the GOP nominee for Illinois’ 6th Congressional District.

Asked about Proft’s involvement in the issue and the appropriateness of his participation while running a PAC, which is not supposed to be dealing with the campaign, a Bailey spokesman responded with an emailed statement that did not directly respond to the questions that were posed. The email concluded, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Asked to clarify, the campaign did not respond.

The Tribune also emailed and texted questions to Proft about his involvement in the Corrigan matter and Bailey’s campaign. Proft issued a nonresponsive reply that accused the Tribune of an “11th hour hit piece full of garbage accusations prompted by some goofball lawyer trying to make a name for himself.”

The support that Uihlein, founder of the Uline office supply and packaging company, has given to Proft’s PAC as opposed to giving directly to Bailey has largely been viewed as the billionaire not trusting that his contributions will be used effectively by the Republican nominee’s campaign.

Uihlein has given $12 million to Bailey’s campaign, but only $3 million since Bailey won a six-way GOP primary on June 28 with 57.5% of the vote. In contrast, Uihlein has given nearly $34 million to Proft’s PAC since Bailey won the nomination.

jgorner@chicagotribune.com

rap30@aol.com

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November 3, 2022 at 07:13PM

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