The Democratic Party of Illinois filed a complaint Friday with the Illinois State Board of Elections against Republican governor candidate Darren Bailey’s campaign and the conservative leader of a Bailey-aligned political action committee, accusing the two of unlawfully coordinating their efforts to oppose Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reelection bid.
The complaint comes after a day after the Chicago Tribune first reported the head of the PAC, Dan Proft, tried to intercede in a potential legal matter involving Bailey by contacting the lawyer for a former Bailey political worker who was at the center of a legal dispute with the campaign.
Proft, of Naples, Florida, runs the People Who Play By the Rules PAC, an independent expenditure political action committee that is supporting Bailey’s run for governor. As a PAC, it is, by law, not supposed to coordinate spending activities with Bailey’s campaign, but the complaint accuses Proft of “consistently” acting in “cooperation, consultation, or concert” with the campaign.
The People Who Play By the Rules PAC is almost entirely funded by national conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein, the billionaire founder of the Uline office supply and packaging firm. Uihlein has given Proft’s PAC $42 million, including $34 million since Bailey won the GOP nomination for governor on June 28. Uihlein has given $12 million directly to Bailey’s campaign, but only $3 million since the primary.
The complaint alleges that under state law, Proft’s communications with the Bailey campaign amount to improper “in-kind” contributions, which don’t represent cash, but donated services or expenses that help campaigns.
“Mr. Proft’s pervasive involvement in the Bailey Campaign indicates some level of coordination, such that these expenditures are not independent and are instead illegal in-kind contributions to the Bailey Campaign,” the complaint alleges. “Mr. Proft has consistently acted in ‘cooperation, consultation, or concert’ with the Bailey Campaign. The examples are endless.”
One of those examples cited in the complaint was the Tribune story, which highlighted Proft’s efforts to intercede in the internal dispute between the Bailey campaign and its former political worker, Brett Corrigan, over an unspecified human resources matter. Corrigan served largely as Bailey’s “body man,” closely following him at events and assisting him as needed.
But around mid-September, Corrigan left Bailey’s campaign — whether he was fired or left on his own is a matter of dispute, according to his attorney, Scott Kaspar. In the meantime, Kaspar was involved in confidential financial settlement discussions with Bailey’s campaign over the reasons for Corrigan’s 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 in the Nov. 8 general election against Pritzker. In text messages obtained by the Tribune, Proft reached out to Kaspar inquiring about the legal matter, but Kaspar did not discuss it with him.
According to the complaint to the Board of Elections, “Mr. Proft’s awareness of and involvement in a confidential, internal Bailey Campaign HR matter indicates that Mr. Proft is in ‘cooperation, consultation, or concert’ with the Bailey Campaign such that expenditures made by the PAC qualify as coordinated contributions.”
The complaint also cited Proft’s other role as a right-wing radio show host who has frequently featured Bailey as a guest. In one instance, the complaint noted a Sept. 8 appearance in which “Proft talks about the millions he has spent supporting the Bailey Campaign with Mr. Bailey on the line” going so far as to say that he “supported Darren Bailey through the super PAC that I run in the primary. And I’m supporting him through the super PAC that I run into the general, too.”
The Bailey campaign said it had no knowledge of the complaint.
“The campaign hasn’t spoken to Dan since their general election efforts started,” Bailey campaign spokesman Joe DeBose said in a text. “This is a desperate attempt by the Pritzker campaign and the Tribune to distract from Darren’s momentum at the close of the election.”
Proft could not immediately be reached for comment on the complaint Friday evening. But at an unrelated news conference earlier in the day, Pritzker suggested Proft and Bailey’s campaign could be fined tens of millions of dollars by the Board of Elections if they coordinated their efforts.
“Well, it looks like, once again, Dan Proft is coordinating with Darren Bailey. Looks illegal to me,” Pritzker said. “Look, this is just another example: They don’t care about the law; they don’t care about the truth. All they’re doing is just throwing, spewing things out there, trying to coordinate to help Darren Bailey any way they can, no matter what it costs, and frankly, no matter if they’re breaking the law or not.”
Tribune reporter Dan Petrella contributed.
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November 4, 2022 at 11:07PM