Illinois Democrats denounce as ‘deceitful’ a pipeline used in last year’s elections to right-wing local news sites

A publisher of far-right websites and mailings designed to look like newspapers created a special online portal for top Illinois GOP candidates and activists to directly seek favorable coverage during last year’s elections, according to a newspaper report that prompted state Democrats to denounce the actions as “deceitful” to voters.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Brian Timpone, an ally and business partner of right-wing radio talk show host Dan Proft, used a password-protected portal that allowed Republicans to pitch stories, provide questions for interviews, place campaign announcements and run “verbatim” op-eds on websites and mailings that are published by the Local Government Information Services organization.

One example the Post cited in the use of the portal-to-publish network was by the campaign of GOP governor candidate Darren Bailey in his unsuccessful bid against Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker last fall.

Illinois Democrats accuse GOP operative Dan Proft and Darren Bailey’s campaign of unlawful coordination in election complaint ]

The Post said Bailey’s campaign used the portal days before the Nov. 8 election to pitch a story about the candidate’s endorsement by former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. A story followed shortly afterward in Timpone’s “DuPage Policy Journal” touting Gabbard’s praise of Bailey but neglecting to mention controversies surrounding her, including pushing Russian-backed conspiracy theories.

The “DuPage Policy Journal” was among several titles of websites and mailings, including the “Chicago City Wire” and the “Will County Gazette,” containing misinformation about Democratic policies under Pritzker that landed in voters’ mailboxes prior to the general election. Pritzker called them the work of Proft, who lives in Naples, Florida, and labeled him a “racist political consultant.” In response, Proft said, “It’s like being called ugly by a frog.”

Proft, a longtime right-wing operative who finished sixth in his own bid for the GOP nomination in 2010, has said he was “part owner’ of the papers but is not listed as part of the ownership of the Local Government Information Services. He used his radio show to defend the papers, while his People Who Play By The Rules independent expenditure political action committee spent tens of millions of dollars from ultraconservative national megadonor Richard Uihlein, founder of the Uline packing and office supply company, to support Bailey’s candidacy.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker says racism behind political mailings disguised as newspapers that attack new criminal justice laws ]

State Democratic Chair Lisa Hernandez, a state representative from Cicero, said the revelations go “far beyond news with a partisan tilt,” but represented “a deliberate distribution of disinformation that came straight from Republican candidates and their campaigns.”

“It is imperative that all of our public officials condemn these actions in the strongest possible terms to avoid setting an unacceptable precedent that permanently shatters the line between news and propaganda,” Hernandez said in a statement. “The dangerous attempts to deceive voters pose a threat to our very democracy; degrading trust in our elections, media, and elected officials. Illinois voters deserve better, and Darren Bailey and all of the Illinois Republicans who engaged with LGIS owe them an apology.”

The Washington Post said Timpone’s portal-to-publish service for Illinois Republicans was being examined by allies of former President Donald Trump as a way to disseminate coverage about Trump for the 2024 campaign in areas without local news outlets.

Efforts to reach Proft, Timpone and former members of Bailey’s campaign were unsuccessful.

The Illinois Democratic Party already has pending a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections alleging Bailey and Proft unlawfully coordinated their efforts to oppose Pritzker’s reelection. Under law, an independent expenditure PAC cannot coordinate spending with the candidate it supports.

Darren Bailey, who lost a bid for Illinois governor, waits with others inside the Knights of Columbus in Elmhurst prior to the arrival of Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Feb. 20, 2023.

Darren Bailey, who lost a bid for Illinois governor, waits with others inside the Knights of Columbus in Elmhurst prior to the arrival of Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Feb. 20, 2023. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

“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, filed Nov. 4, alleged. “Mr. Proft has consistently acted in ‘cooperation, consultation, or concert’ with the Bailey Campaign. The examples are endless.”

A state elections board hearing examiner ruled in February that the complaint should proceed to a public hearing.

In 2012, the Chicago Tribune ended an agreement to invest in and use news stories produced by a previous Timpone company called Journatic after an investigation produced evidence of plagiarism by the firm that relied on overseas freelance writers who often used fake bylines.

More recently, in January, Timpone appeared at a workshop for conservative school board candidates that was sponsored in part by the far-right Naperville-based Awake Illinois. At the event, Timpone offered the use of his publications and said they “can punch back for you,” and added, “If somebody is giving you a hard time, we can fix that.”

Feeds,News,Chi Trib,City: Chicago

via Chicago Tribune

April 28, 2023 at 05:11AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s