Democrats file another election complaint against Dan Proft’s political operation, alleging $1.2 million in undisclosed contributions

For the second time in four months, the Illinois Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections against right-wing radio talk show host and GOP political operative Dan Proft, this time alleging he failed to disclose $1.2 million in contributions to the conservative political action committee he runs.

Proft’s independent expenditure PAC, People Who Play By The Rules, was almost entirely funded by ultra-conservative billionaire megadonor Richard Uihlein. The PAC spent tens of millions of dollars in an unsuccessful effort to boost conservative GOP governor candidate Darren Bailey, who was defeated by progressive billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker 55% to 42% in November.

Proft, of Naples, Fla., has long been a controversial political figure and his political activities have been subject to other allegations of wrongdoing before the elections board in past years.

The latest complaint, filed Tuesday by Ben Hardin, the executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, accuses Proft of committing “one of his most egregious” violations of the law yet by failing to disclose all of his PAC’s financial records “completely and accurately.”

”Mr. Proft is keenly aware of the disclosure requirements found in the (law),” the complaint alleges. “He has served as the chair and treasurer of several political committees spanning more than a decade and has been the subject of multiple matters before this board. And yet, Mr. Proft appears to have again completely disregarded the (law).”

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey (right) prepare for their gubernatorial debate at WGN-TV Channel 9 studios in Chicago on Oct. 18, 2022.

Proft could not immediately be reached for comment.

In the latest quarterly campaign finance disclosure report for the PAC, filed on Jan. 20 to cover the period from October through December of last year, Proft reported People Who Play By the Rules had a negative balance of $1.2 million, after raising $17.4 million and spending $18.6 million.

”While a PAC can incur more in obligated expenditures than it receives in contributions (as long as it properly discloses the debt), it cannot expend more funds than it receives in contributions unless it has received a loan or other receipts,” the complaint says. “But the PAC’s filing shows no debt, loans, or other receipts. Instead, it simply states that it expended more than $1.2 million more than it received.”

State election law requires, among other things, campaign finance reports to include the names and mailing addresses of each person who contributed more than $150 during the reporting period and every loan received by the PAC exceeding $150. Contributions of $1,000 or more must be reported within five days of being received.

Uihlein, the founder of the Uline office supply and packaging firm, has long been Proft’s financial patron. Records show Uihlein gave the People Who Play By The Rules PAC $42 million, including roughly $34 million from the time Bailey won the GOP nomination for governor in late June up to the November contest.

The latest complaint against Proft follows one filed by the state Democratic Party on Nov. 4, just days before the election, alleging Proft’s PAC illegally coordinated with Bailey’s campaign to oppose Pritzker’s bid for reelection. As an independent expenditure PAC, People Who Play By The Rules is not allowed to coordinate spending activities with a political candidate.

The Tribune reported Proft tried to intercede in an internal dispute between the Bailey campaign and one of his former political workers over an unspecified human resources matter. The complaint noted Proft’s involvement in the personnel incident and also alleged that illegal coordination between Proft and Bailey occurred involving Bailey’s appearances on Proft’s conservative radio talk show.

The complaint accused Proft of “consistently” acting in “cooperation, consultation, or concert” with the Bailey campaign and that his communications amount to improper “in-kind” contributions, which don’t represent cash, but donated services or expenses that help campaigns.

A hearing officer for the board of elections said the illegal coordination complaint was filed on “justifiable grounds,” meaning the full board will hear arguments from both sides in the coming weeks to determine whether Proft committed any wrongdoing.

During last year’s general election, Proft was also involved in political mailers disguised as newspapers that were sent to thousands of homes across the state, disseminating disinformation to disparage Pritzker. In 2016, a similar mailing effort funded by a previous Proft independent expenditure PAC was cited by the state Board of Elections for illegal coordination with candidates.

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