Follow the money — down the drain

Liberty Principles PAC spent big on losers in election



By Ted Cox

Follow the money, it’s commonly said in politics, but following the money paid out by one of the state’s leading Republican political action committees shows it going down the drain with losing candidates this election cycle.

Last week’s midterm elections were tough almost across the board for Republicans in Illinois, but the Liberty Principles PAC did especially poorly. According to the state Board of Elections, the super PAC run by Dan Proft, the former Republican governor candidate and current WIND 560-AM radio host, spent millions. A closer look at the last two months of the campaign finds the PAC submitting seven Independent Expenditure Committee Disclosures, required when a committee spends more than $250,000 on a statewide candidate or more than $100,000 on any other candidate.

All seven candidates lost: state Rep. Peter Breen, the Republican floor leader, along with fellow House candidates Marilyn Smolenski, Ammie Kessem, Dwight Kay, Jay Kinzler, Ken Idstein, and Tonia Khouri.

Not coincidentally, all were backed by Liberty Principles’ stealth site, which cast itself as nonpartisan, but against property taxes.

According to Illinois Sunshine, a website that keeps tabs on political contributions and expenditures, Breen and Khouri’s races were among the top 10 most expensive campaigns for the General Assembly.

Again according to Illinois Sunshine, Liberty Principles’ biggest donor over the years has been Dick Uihlein, who has contributed $17.6 million to Proft’s PAC “in support of liberty-oriented policies and candidates,” most recently $500,000 on Oct. 30, a week before the election. But Bruce Rauner and his Turnaround Illinois PAC both contributed more than $2 million, ending in 2016, and billionaire Ken Griffin gave $1.1 million, also ending in 2016.

Looking just at the A-1 expenditure forms on the state Board of Elections site since the last quarterly statement was required at the end of September finds Liberty Principles incredibly busy, not just with the candidates named above.

The extra disclosure letter filed for Breen on Oct. 9 documented more than $230,000 being doled out for TV and radio ads: $70,000 to WBBM-TV, $38,000 to WFLD-TV, $30,000 to WGN-TV, and another $21,000 to WBBM-AM.

Kessem got more than $200,000 according to her disclosure letter filed on Oct. 22, including $55,000 going to WLS-TV, $45,000 to WBBM-TV, and $27,000 to WFLD-TV. And Smolenski got more than $300,000 in her disclosure letter filed Sept. 27, with $75,000 going to WBBM-TV, $70,000 to WLS-TV, $64,000 to WGN-TV, and $48,000 to WFLD-TV, along with $21,000 to WBBM-AM and $13,000 for a website.

To be clear, by law that money isn’t contributed to those candidates’ campaigns, but the letters document money spent on behalf of those candidates by the PAC. Even so, that’s all money down the drain for losing candidates, although Chicago’s local broadcast network affiliates were no doubt grateful for the paid use of their airwaves.

Not all of Liberty Principles’ supported candidates lost, and not all were backed by Of the 19 candidates backed on the site, seven won and a dozen lost. In addition, Jerry Long got $59,000 for ads on WGN-TV, but lost in the 76th House District.

Jason Plummer won his Senate race, aided by a series of smaller contributions from Liberty Principles, as did state Sen. Craig Wilcox, and the same went for state Reps. John Cabello, Mark Batinick, and Tom Morrison, as well as Amy Grant, Dan Caulkins, and Dan Ugaste in the House. Grant was the only one of those not a declared candidate.

But Liberty Principles didn’t spend near as much on those winners as it did on the seven losers who merited the extra disclosure letters. Which just goes to show that, while money exerts a powerful influence on our political system, it will only carry a given candidate so far.