When an independent conservative Republican PAC threw in a five-figure contribution to support one candidate in a suburban Cook County state representative primary race, both Democrats were surprised.
The Liberty Principles PAC, run by conservative Chicago radio host Dan Proft, donated $85,000 in in-kind newspaper “advertising” to support seven Illinois house and senate races. Around $14,100 of that money was targeted to support 7th District Democratic challenger Christopher Harris of Forest Park in his primary race against two-term incumbent Emanuel “Chris” Welch, of Hillside.
“We have no control over this. We can’t even call [Liberty Principles PAC] to ask them why they are doing this,” Harris said in an email.
Welch was also shocked.
“I am disappointed that Bruce Rauner’s extremist and Tea Party allies decided to get involved in the Democratic primary on behalf of my opponent,” Welch emailed. “I do not believe that these groups represent the interests of my constituents.”
In Illinois, independent PACs can’t donate directly to candidates, nor can candidates tell them where to spend their money. But they can make independent media buys to support candidates.
Liberty Principles supports, “candidates for state and local offices who are committed to the economic liberty policy agenda,” according to statements published on the web. In January, Liberty Principles PAC received a $1.8 million infusion from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Turnaround Illinois Committee. Republican Mega-donor Richard Uihlein gave $2.5 million to the PAC in December.
In an interview, Proft said the Liberty Principles PAC chooses to support candidates, sometimes of both parties, who show an “independence from [Illinois House Speaker] Mike Madigan.” Proft has also supported “rebel” Chicago 5th Dist. State Rep. Ken Dunkin.
Welch has been a well-known supporter of Madigan.
“Politics is about aligning interests,” Proft said. “We try to look for opportunities to support people who are going to do things right in some areas.”
Proft said the super-PAC was a relatively new mechanism in Illinois. It’s based on the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizen’s United decision, which allows not-for-profit groups to promote candidates as free speech under the First Amendment.
“It’s bringing Citizen’s United down to the state level,” Proft said.
Proft said he didn’t mind if Harris or other Democrats were alarmed by the Liberty Principles’ support.
“I’m used to unrequited love,” he said.
The 7th District covers some of Proviso Township, including Maywood, Hillside and Westchester, but also stretches into LaGrange Park and River Forest.
The recipient of the PAC money, Newsinator, LLC, is a media company owned by River Forest media entrepreneur Brian Timpone. Timpone said the fact that Welch is his local state rep had “nothing to do” with the media buy. Timpone and Proft declined to explain the nature of the newspaper advertisements, which are due to be published in the next weeks.
Harris said he didn’t know what to expect.
“In modern-day politics, you can’t control most of what goes on around you, but you hope you can control your message,” Harris said in an emailed statement. “Even that can be altered by third-party sources hijacking it, though.”
So far, the campaign donations are lopsided in Welch’s favor. Welch’s war chest has $128,500.38 cash on hand and Harris’s campaign committee has only $7,727.
Welch was president of Proviso Township High School District 209 School Board for more than a decade.
Harris served as a village commissioner in Forest Park where he often butted heads with 20-year Mayor Anthony Calderone in the village of 12,000 residents. Harris challenged Calderone in the April 2015 election and lost in a close race.
Proft said Harris’ ability to “exhibit independence from the power structure in Proviso Township” might inspire other Democrats to think independently.
“If Chris Harris can beat Chris Welch and survive, it sends a message,” Proft said.
The association with Rauner seemed to bother both candidates.
Harris issued a statement describing himself as a “mainstream Democrat.”
“I reject Governor Rauner’s strategy of holding Illinois’ most vulnerable people hostage,” Harris said. “We have yet to see what [Liberty Principles PAC’s] plans are for this race, but I am certain that it is not to echo any backing of myself for Governor Rauner,” Harris also said.
Welch, meanwhile quickly sent out a mailing piece depicting a giant peapod with Rauner’s and Harris’ heads inside calling them “two peas in a pod.”
“Those rallying support for my opponent would hurt working families in our community,” Welch said in an email. “I remain focused on serving the people of my district by protecting vital social services, providing more funding for our schools and working to reduce crime in our neighborhoods.”
Welch has his own Republican supporters, including suburban Cook County mayors Ronald Serpico of Melrose Park and Larry Dominick of Cicero, who have both transferred thousands of dollars to Welch’s campaigns.
In the 2013 election, Welch used the services of Dolfin Consulting, an election consulting company run by Republican campaign operative Tom Mannix, who is also a Forest Park village commissioner.
Mannix said he is not working for Welch in this campaign.
“I am not working for any Democratic candidates right now,” Mannix said.
= — Support from GOP PAC alarms Dems in 7th Dist. State Rep. primary race —