Chris Harris, left, is running against state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) in the March 15 Democratic Primary election. Harris received money from a GOP-aligned PAC.| Photo by Forest Park Review
Monday, February 8, 2016 || Originally Published: Forest Park Review || 2/4/16 || By Bob Skolnik
A political action committee run by conservative activist and radio host Dan Proft has reported spending $14,166.67 in newspaper advertisements supporting former Forest Park Commissioner Chris Harris’s in Harris’s race for state representative against incumbent Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Hillside) in the March 15 Democratic primary.
Proft’s Liberty Principles PAC is flush with cash having received large donations recently from supporters of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. In December, the Liberty Principles PAC received a $2.5 million donation from packaging company owner Dick Uihlein, who also contributed $2.5 million to Rauner’s 2014 governor’s campaign.
In January, the Turnaround Illinois, a PAC fouded to promote Rauner’s turnaround agenda in Springfield, contributed 1.8 million to Proft’s PAC.
Rauner and his allies are making a concerted effort this year’s elections to dent the power of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan as Rauner and Madigan remain locked in a power struggle over a state budget impasse.
The 7th District for the Illinois House of Representatives includes River Forest and Forest Park north of Roosevelt Road.
Rauner and his allies are supporting a few Democrats in their primary campaigns. On the same day that Proft’s PAC reported its spending on behalf of Harris, it also reported spending in support of five other state legislative candidates.
Only one of those five candidates was a Democrat. That candidate, Brandy McGuire of Rock Island, who like Harris is challenging a Democratic incumbent.
“Independent thought is desperately needed in Springfield,” said Proft in an email to the Forest Park Review. “Chris Harris doesn’t share my views. But at least he is his own man. Chris Welch does what he’s told to do by Ron Serpico, Mike Madigan or whoever is lining his pockets at any given moment. That’s the difference and it’s a big one.”
Harris, whose campaign had only $7,727.20 in his campaign treasury as of Dec. 31, 2015 said he did not seek the aid of Proft’s PAC and said that he is not aligned with Rauner.
“There are many reasons PACs get involved in races,” Harris said in a press release his campaign released on Wednesday after the Illinois Observer first reported the Liberty Principles PAC spending on Harris’s behalf. “They want to advance a candidate, they don’t like a particular candidate or they want a group to have to spend money they may not have planned to.
“We have yet to see what their plans are for this race, but I am certain it is not to echo any backing of myself for Governor Rauner. The devastation caused by the budget stalemate should horrify everyone, and I reject Governor’s Rauner’s strategy of holding Illinois’ most vulnerable hostage.”
Harris, who described himself as a “mainstream Democrat” called for Rauner and his supporters to stay out of the Democratic primary.
“I feel it is wrong-headed for Governor Rauner’s people to insert themselves into a Democratic primary election,” Harris said. “The people of the 7th District are well aware of Rep. Welch’s poor record, and it is their voices that should decide this election.”
Welch, however, suggested that Proft’s nearly $15,000 campaign donation to Harris indicated that Rauner had already inserted himself.
“I am disappointed that Bruce Rauner’s extremist and Tea Party allies decided to get involved in the Democratic primary on behalf of my opponent,” he said. “I do not believe these groups represent the interests of my constituents. Those rallying support for my opponent would hurt working families in our community.”
PACs like the Liberty Principles PAC can spend their money as they see fit, and do not need approval from a candidate such as Harris to spend money supporting that candidate or attacking his opponent.
Such independent expenditure committees are prohibited by law from coordinating their expenditures with a campaign that it is supporting.
Proft, who ran for governor in the 2010 Republican primary and finished sixth with 7.73 percent of the vote, and Welch could not be immediately reached for comment.
As of Dec. 31 Welch’s campaign had $128,500.38 in the bank, according to state records, and has been receiving steady contributions in 2016.
On Wednesday, the Madigan-controlled Democratic Majority PAC reported making an in-kind donation of $7,042.03 to pay for printing expenses for the Welch campaign. VFP
This story has been changed to reflect that the $1.8 million contribution to Proft’s PAC in January came from Turnaround Illinois PAC. The VFP version has been updated to include a comment from Rep. Welch.