Publisher Brian Timpone defends voter data’s release

By Bill Dwyer for Chronicle Media

Brian Timpone

Illinois’ State Board of Elections is demanding a media company owned by two controversial right wing political operatives delete from its websites all registered voter information including addresses and dates of birth.

Brian Timpone, a co-owner of Local Government Information Services spoke with Chronicle Media April 12 and defended his company’s actions, asserting that the public has a right to know who is registered to vote, along with identifying information.

Illinois state law appears to hold otherwise, and the SBE has asked Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to investigate.

Timpone and his partner, radio talk show host Dan Proft, operate some 30 publications around the state, including the McLean County Times.

The Columbia Journalism School’s TOW Center for Digital Journalism has labeled the LGIS publications “pink slime.” Numerous media outlets have called their publications “fake news” and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s campaign called them “Republican propaganda papers” and said they “represent an existential threat to quality, independent journalism …”

In a phone call April 12, Timpone said information related to voter registration is a public record and ripped into what he called government officials’ arrogance in keeping such information confidential and restricted. He insisted the public must know who is registered to vote and where, if the public is to have faith in the electoral system.

An online page from the McLean Times showing voter information from 2020 election with names, dates of birth, and addresses (information was redacted for print).

“People question election integrity because information is kept closely held. Is that fair?” he asked.

Continuing an ongoing battle with various journalism outlets, he said, “You’re either a journalist standing up for democracy, or you’re an agent of the state. You’re all so blinded by your politics. Try not doing that.”

Mainstream media, Timpone said, “do(es)n’t put it online because our political class bosses don’t want it.” He claimed former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was the key mover behind that practice, and that Pritzker also doesn’t want it.

The SBE said it has received numerous calls from voters concerned that their dates of birth and complete street addresses had been disclosed on numerous LGIS media websites. Officials have accused LGIS of improperly obtaining the personal information of thousands of individuals who voted in 2020.

“While the State Board of Elections is mentioned several times in the introduction of each article, SBE did not provide data to Local Government Information Services for the stories and does not know how LGIS obtained the 2020 voter data,” the SBE said. Such data, it said, “would have been available only to registered political committees and whose use for nonpolitical purposes is prohibited.”

The SBE said it has been in communication “with a representative of LGIS,” and that those discussions have led them to conclude that LGIS “combined 2016 and 2020 data sets for its voter stories.”

Asked how LGIS obtained the 2020 voter data, Timpone said, “We didn’t get it through a PAC (Political Action Committee).” Asked to elaborate, he replied. “We got it. It’s public information.”

The SBE said LGIS “used a copy of the 2016 voter file to obtain the birthdates and many of the street addresses it has published.” SBE officials surmised that LGIS gained access to the 2016 voter file “because at that time it was affiliated with a political committee, Liberty Principles PAC,” which was operated by Proft and which funded LGIS’s operations.”

SBE Executive Director Bernadette Matthews said Timpone and Proft are violating state law.

“While LGIS may arguably have had legal access to the voter data when it was being financed by a political committee, any semblance of legality ended when the relationship with the PAC was severed in 2016.”

Matthews said the SBE removed birthdates from its voter data in 2018 due to privacy concerns, and said of LGIS’s actions, “It is disappointing when an organization shows such little regard for voters.”

“There’s no state law that says you have to do that,” Timpone said of the SBE’s accusations.

But there is. Chapter 10 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes, (10 ILCS 5/5-7), explicitly makes it a Class 4 felony to publicly disclose such information.

While all completed and signed voter registration cards may be reviewed in person at the SBE offices in Springfield, reviewers “may not print, duplicate, transmit, or alter the list.”

State law says registration cards “shall be deemed public records and shall be open to inspection during regular business hours, except during the 27 days immediately preceding any election.”

However, in order to “protect the privacy and confidentiality of voter registration information,” the law holds that disclosure of voter registration records to any person or entity other than to a State or local political committee and other than to a governmental entity for a governmental purpose “is specifically prohibited,” although with a few exceptions.

In such exceptions, the law states, anyone “representing a political committee requesting copies of such tapes shall make a sworn affidavit that the information shall be used only for bona fide political purposes, including by or for candidates for office or incumbent office holders.”

“Any person who violates this provision,” the statute concludes, “shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony.”

Both local Republicans and Democrats issued statements on the controversy. McLean County Republicans claimed to be “the first to draw attention to the fact that the McLean County Times was releasing voter information.”

“We found this release disturbing,” they said. “While not illegal, we believe the release of information to be unethical.” The local GOP organization said it had “distanced itself” from the McLean County Times by removing links on their party webpage.

Timpone was dismissive of any concerns, saying, “I don’t care. My job isn’t to curry to some political party. It’s to inform (readers).”

McLean County Democrats called Timpone and Proft’s behavior “ridiculous and wrong.” People exercising their right to vote, they said, “should be treated with dignity and respect. Instead, Dan Proft and his conservative cronies have made a mockery of it.”

The stark difference in perspective carried over into alleged motives for the voter data release. McLean County Democrats opined that it “seems pretty clear there are likely two goals in releasing the names, birth dates, addresses and voting history of voters in McLean County.”

“First, it’s a warning to their own voters that they’re being monitored, and likely intended to apply pressure to get Republican voters to the polls despite a candidate many of them don’t like at the top of the ticket in November.”

“The second goal is more likely, and more troubling,” they said. “It’s an effort to discourage and dissuade Democrats from voting — out of fear they’ll be tracked and potentially threatened.”

Timpone, who said LGIS intends to do “more analysis later,” insisted that his only purpose was to dump the data as received onto the internet so “people can do their own analysis.”

He characterized voters’ addresses and dates of birth as “essential” pieces of information citizens needed to know in order to be informed.

“We need to make sure that people know it’s there,” Timpone said. “That info needs to be better publicized.”

Timpone said he won’t stop posting the data even if Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul initiates legal action, saying he will make his case with Raoul “wherever he wants to do it.”

He said that LGIS had acquired voter data for the entire state, and that they would be releasing more in coming weeks, saying they were “just rolling (the data) out over time,” to avoid having huge masses of names and numbers on their websites all at once.