SPRINGFIELD — One of several startup newspapers tied to a conservative Illinois activist has been challenged in a federal complaint as a Republican mouthpiece, meaning it should count as a campaign contribution.
Kim Savage, a Democrat from the Chicago suburb of Darien, argues in a Federal Election Commission filing that the DuPage Policy Journal is not an independent newspaper, but controlled by businessman and radio talk-show host Dan Proft through his political action committee, Liberty Principles PAC, which got a $2.5 million contribution last June from Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The paper is one of 14 co-owned by Proft that appeared last spring before the state’s primary elections.
The complaint, filed last week in Washington, maintains the DuPage Policy Journal is illegally coordinating with GOP congressional candidate Tonia Khouri and that its publication costs should be reported as political contributions in her race to unseat incumbent Democratic Rep. Bill Foster.
The PAC, Proft, Khouri for Congress and the Khouri campaign treasurer are named in the FEC document. It contends the DuPage paper is not entitled to a press exemption from campaign-finance laws because it’s run by a political organization, is not published regularly, is sent to doorsteps or left in high-traffic areas for free and includes “coordinated communications” with a candidate that the law bars for so-called independent expenditure committees.
“I’m really concerned about all the dark money from special interest groups and their influence on elections,” said Savage, a former College of DuPage board member. She said she thought the newspaper “was a local, grassroots thing and I was kind of appalled when I found out it was a special interest group that publishes it.”
Proft called the FEC complaint “factually incorrect in every possible way,” primarily because the papers are now owned by a private company called Local Government Information Services. According to records filed with the secretary of state’s office, Local Government Information Services incorporated on Aug. 15.
“It’s a legitimate newspaper just like any other newspaper,” Proft told The Associated Press. “I’ll put the stories we do on politics and policy up against any other newspaper in the state.”
The FEC must seek a response from the targets of the complaints within 15 days, then review those and decide whether to investigate further. There’s no expedited process despite the Nov. 8 election.
Proft, a drive-time AM radio talk show host in Chicago who ran for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010, began publishing the newspapers last spring. According to the complaint, they are distributed in 14 areas, including DuPage County; Springfield; Chicago’s north, northwest, and south suburbs; the Quad Cities and the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.
Liberty Principles PAC, which Proft says is not participating in any federal races, was named in complaints about three of the newspapers — two in Chicago’s northern suburbs and one in downstate Cumberland County — filed during the primary election with the Illinois State Board of Elections. The papers were alleged to have improperly engaged in coordinating messages with legislative candidates and had not attributed their funding source.
Documents indicate the board found the “coordinated communications” complaints were filed on “justifiable grounds” but took no action. In two cases, it ordered Liberty Principles PAC to include a “paid for by” disclaimer in future issues.
Khouri campaign manager John Cooney issued a statement calling the federal complaint “a desperate attempt by Bill Foster and his cronies to divert attention” from issues such as protecting Social Security and Medicare and creating good-paying jobs.
Foster, running for his fourth nonconsecutive term, declined comment.