State Election

PAC-funded newspaper hits McHenry County homes

H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com 
A newspaper that started hitting doorsteps in McHenry County this month is not what it seems. The "McHenry Times" is actually a campaign piece front the Liberty Principles PAC, a Chicago-based PAC funding Republican candidates throughout the state.
H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com A newspaper that started hitting doorsteps in McHenry County this month is not what it seems. The "McHenry Times" is actually a campaign piece front the Liberty Principles PAC, a Chicago-based PAC funding Republican candidates throughout the state.

A new newspaper funded by a conservative radio host’s political action committee has started arriving at homes in McHenry and Lake counties.

The McHenry Times and its online version contain stories about local sports and events, as well as advertising from nonprofits. The publication also features a front-page piece highlighting 66th Illinois House District Republican hopeful Allen Skillicorn. Skillicorn is seeking the nomination against Paul Serwatka, Carolyn Schofield and Dan Wilbrandt in one of the state’s richest races.

The newspaper is the product of the Liberty Principles Political Action Committee, a Chicago-based PAC supporting Republican candidates throughout the state. The PAC was started in 2012 by conservative radio host Dan Proft.

A note explaining the publication’s connection to the PAC appears on page two.

Proft said he chose a newspaper format because it’s a cost-effective way to communicate with voters. He said it’s up to readers to weigh the merits of the content, and scoffed at the idea that readers wouldn’t be able to discern who published and paid for the publication.

“I don’t think they need to be managed,” Proft said. “They have all the information.”

Serwatka said he saw the newspaper as an example of the influence of outside special interest groups, calling it hypocritical for Skillicorn to accept such support from a Chicago-based organization.

Skillicorn said he was unaware the paper was published by the Liberty Principles PAC, which election filings show has spent more than $82,000 in support of him since January.

“I think someone from the organization contacted me a few weeks ago, and they have been getting my press releases just as the Northwest Herald has,” Skillicorn said.

Independent committees are barred from directly coordinating with candidates.

Schofield took issue with the paper, calling it a negative campaign piece that could trick voters who are trying to learn more about campaign issues.

“I think it’s a deceptive practice, though legal, to deceive voters into thinking it’s a legitimate paper that is actual news and reporting,” Schofield said. “And it’s just not.”

Wilbrandt said he quickly discovered the newspaper was political advertising sandwiched between other content, and hoped others receiving the paper would discern the same.

“I guess we don’t know what to expect in this race,” Wilbrandt said.

Liberty Principles has put out eight publications in Illinois. The Lake County Gazette features an article highlighting Dan McConchie, who is running against Martin McLaughlin and Casey Urlacher in the 26th Illinois Senate District Republican primary.

Liberty Principles is funded by Republican-leaning contributors, including another PAC backed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The PAC disclosed on Jan. 19 that it received a $1.8 million contribution from the Turnaround Illinois PAC. Turnaround Illinois was funded with a $4 million contribution from former Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell and a $250,000 contribution from Rauner.

The content also has ties to other Republican-leaning organizations. A front-page story about Democratic Auditor General Frank Mautino’s campaign expenditures is presented as a special to the McHenry Times from the Madison County Record, an organization created in 2004 by Brian Timpone.

Timpone is the CEO of embattled news content and aggregation company Journatic, which changed its name to LocalLabs in 2014. The Madison County Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, according to information on its website.

The Liberty Principles papers will be published weekly for an indefinite period.

Editor's note: This story has been changed to clarify Brian Timpone's role with Journatic.

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