Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2024
On the Friday before the 2022 midterm elections, the Illinois Democratic Party filed a legal complaint against the Darren Bailey campaign for governor. The complaint says that the campaign illegally coordinated with an independent political action committee (known as a super PAC). The super PAC, called the “People Who Play By The Rules PAC,” is led by Republican political operative, talk show host, and one-time failed gubernatorial candidate, Dan Proft. The People Who Play By The Rules PAC is funded almost entirely by billionaire businessman and Republican mega-donor, Richard Uihlein. The Illinois Democrats’ legal complaint was not filed not in court, but in front of the Illinois State Board of Elections – the state government body tasked with enforcing Illinois’ election laws. The complaint has not yet been made public.
The internal Bailey campaign dispute
Illinois state law bans super PACs from making expenditures in “cooperation, consultation, or concert with…any candidate or authorized committee or agent of such committee.” The complaint says that the law was violated when Mr. Proft personally sought to intercede into a human resources dispute between the Bailey campaign and a former campaign staffer named Brett Corrigan. Corrigan is described as a Bailey family friend who worked for the campaign for over a year before leaving in mid-September over an unspecified HR dispute. It is not clear whether Corrigan resigned or was fired. However, after leaving the campaign, Corrigan retained attorney Scott Kaspar to pursue a “proposed confidential financial agreement” with the campaign. Kaspar, like Proft, is also a failed Republican candidate for public office, who ran earlier in the 2022 election cycle.
The complaint’s allegations of illegal in-kind donations
Proft’s alleged misconduct is that he repeatedly texted Corrigan’s attorney about the dispute with the campaign, clearly intended to quash any possible lawsuit that Corrigan would file against the Bailey campaign. The complaint says that “Mr. Proft’s awareness of and involvement in a confidential, internal Bailey Campaign HR matter indicates that Mr. Proft is in ‘cooperation, consultation, or concert’ with the Bailey Campaign” and that the texts are “illegal in-kind contributions to the Bailey Campaign.” Kaspar said that he was “disheartened that confidential settlement materials are finding their way to the press and otherwise.” Kaspar was referring to Proft, who he considers “a member of the press” because of his conservative talk radio show.
The Illinois Democratic Party’s complaint alleges that Mr. Proft, on behalf of the People Who Play By The Rules PAC, made an illegal “in-kind” contribution to the Bailey campaign. In this case, Proft’s alleged misconduct would amount to free legal advocacy and crisis communications for the Bailey Campaign. However, the complaint also says that, “Proft talks about the millions he has spent supporting the Bailey Campaign with Mr. Bailey” on his radio show. The complaint mentions Proft’s statements that he supported Darren Bailey through the Support PAC that he ran in the primary election. Proft also said, “I’m supporting him through the super PAC that I run into the general, too.”
An illustration of big money influence in American politics
The complaint from the Democratic Party of Illinois highlights the growing influence of super PACs. The People Who Play By The Rules PAC is an illustration of a political action committee that is managed by conservative politicians turned media commentators, such as Dan Proft, and funded by billionaires, such as Richard Uihlein. My assertion is that billionaires like Uihlein hold a disproportionate amount of influence and power over American elections. Russia’s system is what is known as an oligarchy, run by a small number of wealthy political insiders. Oligarch’s are wealthy, Russian businessman who wield a great deal of political influence by acquiring state assets and use their wealth to influence politics. To put it bluntly, Richard Uihlein is a wanna-be oligarch, enabled by political operatives such as Dan Proft, seeking to expand the influence of billionaires in politics, reflecting the undemocratic political structures of autocracies like Russia.
Adjudication of the complaint is certain to extend beyond the midterm elections, and therefore any enforcement action of the State Board of Elections would only be controlling of future elections. That said, In the end, Darren Bailey’s campaign lost badly to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s campaign. According to the political newsletter Illinois Politico Playbook, “[t]he polls were closed barely a minute before The Associated Press called the race for Pritzker on Tuesday night. It was so quick that Bailey’s camp needed time to examine the numbers before finally conceding.” However, I believe that if Bailey were to have won, there would be a major concern about Proft and Uihlein’s access and influence to the newly elected governor. I believe the Democrats’ complaint should be thoroughly pursued by the State Board of Elections to help mitigate the risk of special insider access to politicians supported by figures like Dan Proft and Richard Uihlein.