Hearing officer recommends elections board dismiss illegal coordination complaint against Dan Proft, Darren Bailey

Hearing officer recommends elections board dismiss illegal coordination complaint against Dan Proft, Darren Bailey

A hearing officer has recommended that the Illinois State Board of Elections dismiss a complaint filed by the state Democratic Party contending political operative and right-wing radio show host Dan Proft and former state Sen. Darren Bailey coordinated campaign spending in Bailey’s unsuccessful 2022 race against Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

At issue is alleged collusion between the Proft-run People Who Play By The Rules, an independent expenditure political action committee that was funded with $42 million from national ultraconservative mega donor Richard Uihlein of Lake Forest, and Bailey’s campaign.

Democrats contended Bailey’s appearances on Proft’s radio show helped telegraph the theme for TV spots the PAC ran on behalf of the Republican candidate, and that the ads used background footage borrowed from Bailey campaign that were posted to YouTube.

Testimony during a hearing on the complaint revealed a secret meeting at a Chicago area county club the day after Bailey’s GOP primary win that was arranged at Proft’s request. At the meeting, Proft put a while envelope on a table and told Bailey it contained $20 million from Uihlein. If Bailey wanted direct access to the cash, he had to fire his staff and name Proft as his campaign manager. If he didn’t, Uihlein’s money would go to Proft’s PAC.

Bailey opted to keep his staff and Uihlein’s money stayed with Proft’s PAC. But Democrats contended the offer was an indication that more Uihlein money was available for the campaign.

While state and federal laws say independent expenditure PACs are not allowed to coordinate campaign spending with a candidate, hearing examiner James Tenuto basically said that the complaint against Proft’s PAC cannot be sustained because the state lacks rules to define such coordination.

Tenuto said an examination of the facts and evidence presented “does not demonstrate ‘an agreement or some other activity which indicates some level of material involvement in the decision making between the independent committee and candidate of his campaign.’ Thus ‘coordination’ among the respondents has not been proven.”

Tenuto noted that Democrats cited federal rules and regulations to try to establish proof of coordination between Proft and Bailey. But, he said, “Illinois has not adopted any rules and regulations concerning independent expenditures” and said rules or statutory changes are needed to “clarify which activities are acceptable and/or prohibited in regards to independent expenditures.”

Tenuto recommended the board either dismiss the complaint or find that the alleged violations of coordination had not been proven.

Tenuto’s May 31 recommendation was made public Tuesday in advance of the board’s June 18 meeting.

Proft, a resident of Naples, Florida, has been subject to several complaints before the State Board of Elections. His People Who Play By The Rules PAC owes an outstanding $25,500 in fines for failing to timely file campaign financial reports.

Last month, a Lake County judge ordered political mailers designed to resemble legitimate newspapers remove street addresses and birthdates from voter lists it posted in violation of state statutes. The publications, referred to as “pink slime” journalism, are run by Brian Timpone, a business associate of Proft,  Proft has indicated he is involved in the business.

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