Donations in governor's race get a closer look by state board

Illinois State Board of Elections commissioners Wednesday authorized a deeper dive into allegations of election code violations by Republican Darren Bailey's gubernatorial campaign and a PAC headed by conservative radio host Dan Proft.

A hearing on the matter could come in April.

A complaint lodged with the ISBE by Democratic Party of Illinois officials contends millions of dollars contributed to Bailey's campaign committee from the People Who Play By The Rules PAC were illegal because they weren't "independent" expenditures.

Frequent appearances by Bailey on Proft's radio show, for example, prove the two entities were coordinating efforts to defeat Democrat J.B. Pritzker, who won reelection, the complaint states. That contravenes state statutes regarding donations, said Ben Hardin, interim executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

But "the Bailey for Illinois committee vehemently denies it has violated any campaign finance laws, and I am confident the State Board of Elections will find there has been no violation after a hearing on the merits," attorney Jeffrey Meyer, who is representing the former senator's campaign, said Friday.

Proft and his attorney did not respond to emails seeking comment.

ISBE hearing officer Andy Nauman's report on the complaint dismissed a number of allegations, but he did recommend "a public hearing to flesh out the coordination issue to determine if both committees violated contribution limits or not."

The next step is for the case to be assigned to an outside hearing officer, who will conduct a hearing or series of hearings and make a recommendation to the board, ISBE spokesman Matt Dietrich said.

"Then the board will hear from the parties in open session at a regular monthly board meeting," possibly as soon as April.

The complaint cites a June radio appearance by Bailey, who told Proft "they need to get the message out that Chicago isn't a safe place to live," an ISBE report said. "Subsequently after receiving these direct instructions on what message Mr. Bailey wanted, People Who Play By the Rules produced advertisements that feature violent crime in Chicago."

Bailey's and Proft's attorneys have scoffed at those assumptions.

Proft's lawyer Joseph Vanderhulst said the Democrats "were on a fishing expedition," according to the report.

Meyer charged the complaint did not provide evidence nor even contend that "the Bailey campaign had any control over any of Mr. Proft's actions."

Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said that, ultimately, "I don't think this is a big deal.

"If you have sworn testimony, or a memo or a text or a tape of phone call from the candidate's campaign to the (independent contributor) that says, 'Say this' or 'Attack this person' or 'Contact this person for dirt on my opponent' or 'Focus on direct mail to this group,' then you have a direct, willful act to coordinate," Redfield said.

"But if you don't have that, then the board has to read minds."

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