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Illinois Democrats accuse GOP operative Dan Proft of illegal coordination

The Illinois Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Illinois State Election Commission on Friday against the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey and the conservative leader of a political action committee that backs Bailey, accusing them of illegally coordinating their efforts to oppose Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s re-election bid.

The complaint comes a day later The Chicago Tribune was first to report the head of the PAC, Dan Proft, tried to intervene in a potential legal case involving Bailey by contacting an attorney for a former Bailey political operative who was at the center of a legal dispute with the campaign.

Proft, of Naples, Fla., runs People Who Play By The Rules PAC, an independent political action committee on spending which supports Bailey’s run for governor. As a PAC, it is not required by law to coordinate spending with Bailey’s campaign, but the complaint accuses Proft of “consistently” acting in “collaboration, consultation or coordination” with the campaign.

The People Who Play By the Rules PAC is funded almost entirely by national conservative megadonor Richard Whelein, the billionaire founder of the office supply and packaging firm Uline. Wyline gave $42 million to Proft’s PAC, including $34 million after Bailey won the Republican nomination for governor on June 28. Wyline gave $12 million directly to Bailey’s campaign, but only $3 million after the primary.

The complaint alleges that under state law, Proft’s communications with Bailey constitute improper “in-kind” contributions, which are not cash but donated services or expenses that help the companies.

“Mr. Proft’s pervasive involvement in the Bailey campaign demonstrates some level of coordination such that these expenditures are not independent but instead constitute illegal in-kind contributions to the Bailey campaign,” the complaint states. “Mr. . Proft consistently acted in “cooperation, consultation, or agreement” with Bailey’s company. The examples are endless.”

One such example cited in the complaint was a Tribune story covering Proft’s efforts to intervene in an internal dispute between Bailey’s campaign and her former political aide, Brett Corrigan, over an unspecified human resources issue. Corrigan has largely served as Bailey’s “body man,” keeping a close eye on him at events and assisting him as needed.

But around mid-September, Corrigan left Bailey’s company — whether he was fired or left on his own is a matter of dispute, according to his attorney, Scott Kaspar. At the same time, Kaspar was involved in confidential financial discussions with the Bailey company about the reasons for Corrigan’s departure.

During those talks, Proft weighed in, apparently trying to stave off filing a possible lawsuit in the case that could have become public and hurt Bailey’s chances in the general election against Pritzker on Nov. 8. In text messages obtained by the Tribune, Proft contacted Kaspar asking about the legal matter, but Kaspar did not discuss it with him.

According to the complaint to the election commission, “Mr. Mr. Proft’s knowledge of and involvement in the Bailey Campaign’s confidential, internal personnel matters indicates that Mr. Proft is in “collaboration, consultation, or agreement” with the Bailey Campaign such that the expenditures made by the PAC qualify as coordinated contributions.”

The complaint also cited Proft’s other role as a right-wing radio host who often featured Bailey as a guest. In one instance, the complaint noted a Sept. 8 appearance in which “Proft talks about the millions he spent supporting the Bailey campaign with Mr. Bailey on the hook,” going so far as to say he “supported Darren Bailey through a super PAC that I running in the primaries. And I support him through a super PAC that I also face with the general.”

Bailey’s company said it was unaware of the complaint.

“The campaign has not spoken to Dan since the general election began,” Bailey campaign spokesman Joe DeBose said in a text. “This is a desperate attempt by the Pritzker campaign and the Tribune to distract Darren from late-election momentum.”

Proft could not be reached for comment on the complaint Friday night. But at an unrelated news conference earlier in the day, Pritzker suggested the Election Commission could fine Proft and Bailey’s campaign tens of millions of dollars if they coordinate their efforts.

“Well, it looks like Dan Proft is coordinating with Darren Bailey again. It looks illegal to me,” said Pritzker. “Look, this is another example: they don’t care about the law; they don’t care about the truth. All they’re doing is just dropping things, throwing things away, trying to coordinate to help Darren Bailey in any way they can, no matter what the cost, and frankly, whether they’re breaking the law or not.”

Tribune reporter Dan Petrella contributed.




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