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*** UPDATED x1 *** The Proft, Tillman, Uihlein and Bailey connections

Wednesday, Nov 2, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Columbia Journalism Review

This is the latest report in a research project established in 2019 to trace the use and provenance of local news sites created and operated for the purpose of exercising influence, be it electorally or to promote the interests of corporate clients or advocacy groups. While publishing news sites or newspapers to exert influence is not new, the increasingly involved campaign tools and tactics deployed through these networks create a challenge for independent local journalism and demonstrate how modern political campaigning makes it harder for readers to distinguish between political advertising and journalism.

This extended network is operated by a conglomerate of corporate entities—Metric Media, Newsinator (alias Franklin Archer), Local Government Information Services (LGIS), Pipeline Media (alias LocalityLabs or LocalLabs)—each of which claims ownership of different subsets of the network. […]

John Tillman, an influential conservative activist based out of Illinois, holds executive positions in at least nine organizations that, through a dizzying series of transactions, move millions of dollars around interconnected non- and for-profit organizations. As we reported last year, Tillman is also currently listed as the secretary for LGIS, the Illinois-centric subset of the network comprising thirty-four “local news” websites and eleven physical newspapers, which was subject to an FEC lawsuit for disguising campaign materials as local community newspapers (the suit was dismissed in 2019). Timpone is listed as the president of LGIS, a position previously held by Proft. In the run-up to the midterms this November, newspapers from the LGIS outlets have started appearing on doorsteps in Illinois attacking Pritzker for his policies on crime, COVID, and LGBTQ rights. 

Proft’s PAC is financially backing Republican candidate Darren Bailey against Pritzker in the November election. Proft ran for office in 2010, currently hosts a show on the Salem Radio Network (which syndicates Christian political talk, conservative programming, and music), and his now-defunct PAC Liberty Principles paid Newsinator (one of the organizations in the extended network) over $300,000 for advertising. This year he started a new PAC, People Who Play by the Rules, which—at the time of writing—has received over $28 million from Uihlein, the shipping magnate and Republican mega-donor. The PAC has paid Pipeline Media just over $225,000 for services that include websites, SMS messages, and robocalls. […]

Only a small fraction of the $28 million that Proft’s People Who Play by the Rules PAC received from Uihlein—$226,668—was spent on Pipeline Media to cover services like website, SMS messages, and robocalls. […]

Since July 13, [Proft’s PAC] has spent over $12 million opposing Pritzker, of which $10,000 was disbursed to Pipeline Media for “website.”

A handful of domains were registered in July 2022 with names like howmuchworse [dot] com, truthaboutjb [dot] com, toomuchjb [dot] com, and thetruthaboutjb [dot] com, all of which redirect to the same site with the disclaimer “© People Who Play By The Rules PAC.” The site states “Too Much JB Pritzker Leaves No Room for You.”

Other anti-Pritzker domains registered in mid-September include pritzkermustgo [dot] com (which features a new ad campaign by the pac) and pritzkerbook [dot] com (which presents users with a book about “what every Illinoisan should know” about the incumbent). The book, too, is paid for by the People Who Play by the Rules PAC.

All these domains share digital identifiers like IP addresses and analytics infrastructure with other sites in the extended local news network, including the Will County Gazette, Kane County Reporter, Chicago City Wire, and DuPage Policy Journal. […]

People Who Play by the Rules isn’t the only PAC that’s received millions from Uihlein this election cycle. Restoration PAC, whose raison d’être is to “provide support to truly conservative candidates” and to “oppose Leftists and the woke agenda,” received at least $13.7 million from the founder of Uline, the privately held shipping-supply company. Of this, $1.37 million went to Pipeline Advisors LLC ($1,336,109) and Pipeline Media ($30,463) for various types of consulting and “production costs.”

It’s apparently all one thing. There’s more, so click here.

*** UPDATE *** I should’ve posted this interesting graphic. Notice the Franklin News Foundation. That’s the publisher of Center Square…

       

20 Comments
  1. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 10:33 am:

    ===John Tillman, an influential conservative activist based out of Illinois, holds executive positions in at least nine organizations that, through a dizzying series of transactions, move millions of dollars around interconnected non- and for-profit organizations.===

    Wonder why they’re playing hide the ball with the cash? For profit, non-profit, it’s all ending up in the pockets of Tillman, Proft and Timpone.

    See also: “Republicans complain about big money.”


  2. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 10:37 am:

    Vertical integration, with Proft, Tillman and Paprocki cashing checks to appease Uihlein by propping up Bailey… to take it to Pritzker.

    Rauner/Z, IPI, and later the Proft angle after Diana Rauner ordered a change… it’s the move of the Wealthy Right in Illinois to set up this vast maze of phoniness to show alleged stability and cites for narratives, and the operation(s) to reproduce the narratives as phony news.

    It’s not new, it’s now gotten too big to be covered with a shadow.


  3. - Annonin' - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 10:39 am:

    Exactly who is Tillman influencing? Most of his ideas have gone bust and are looking the same for next. Gotta think Uline’s kids must be shaking their heads wondering if Dad & Mom will have anything left to leave them.


  4. - Grandson of Man - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 10:40 am:

    “oppose Leftists and the woke agenda”

    Typical scare words for the GOP base. Anyone who needs a grift can pump out boilerplate talking points.

    This is why there are few if any GOP moderates in Illinois. They could not be pro-union or pro-racial justice/BLM in this environment of right wing billionaires, their front groups and the base. It’s very fitting that the GOP has the funders and base it has. They belong together.


  5. - Arsenal - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 10:44 am:

    ==Exactly who is Tillman influencing?==

    Donors, mostly?

    The fact that Proft has stood up a bunch of websites that no one is talking about really hammers this home to me. Do not mistake activity for accomplishment. There’s a ton of money out their for grifting “consultants”. And btw, Dems aren’t immune to that, it’s just that many Illinois Dems are temporarily a bit more disciplined in the Pritzker era.


  6. - Amalia - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 10:51 am:

    even a Uilhlein $$$ connect to Matt Podgorski for Cook County Board. danger.


  7. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 10:56 am:

    “But, but… but Center Square is like a real news group, like the Daily Herald”

    … aaannnddd scene.


  8. - JS Mill - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 11:05 am:

    =See also: “Republicans complain about big money.”=

    Yep. So much hypocrisy. And whining.


  9. - XonXoff - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 11:06 am:

    Wow, lots of info hyperlinked from this piece.

    FWIW, here’s a list of 79 domains some will recognize, sharing an LGIS IP on AWS.

    https://otx.alienvault.com/indicator/ip/54.234.106.117


  10. - George Ryan Reynolds - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 11:22 am:

    The update provides a very good reason not to include Center Square “stories” in the daily roundups. Paid for by the conservative dark money crowd. Or label it as such every time.


  11. - DTownResident - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 11:29 am:

    It looks like they are possibly exporting the zombie newspapers to other states. The tag line on this “Catholic Tribune” appears to match one for Proft’s Rockford Paper and at least some bylines listed are also shown as the bylines for articles in LGIS papers. https://twitter.com/Garrett_Archer/status/1587281159741788160?t=HzROjCvGBy8o8CTazhOf3g&s=19


  12. - Amalia - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 11:43 am:

    when you can’t make the news, buy the news and fake the news.


  13. - Chicago 20 - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 12:44 pm:

    Lies, damn lies and Uilhlein.


  14. - P. - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 12:56 pm:

    Maybe WGN, WTTW, the Daily Herald and others should rethink platforming them and their people as innocent helpful non-partisan policy wonks.


  15. - Thomas Paine - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 1:09 pm:

    Every mention of them should include the tagline “with ties to the January 6th insurrection.”

    Can we call this “political incest?”

    Can we refer to the relationships between these parties as “incestuous”?

    I believe that we can, and we should.


  16. - Nearly Normal - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 1:17 pm:

    From the WGLT website–

    https://www.wglt.org/local-news/2022-10-31/right-wing-zombie-papers-attack-illinois-democrats-ahead-of-elections


  17. - Arsenal - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 2:48 pm:

    It’s also just remarkable that this scheme, rather than any campaign or leadership committee, is basically it for ILGOP messaging this cycle. I tend to doubt that this is how Durkin, McConchie, or even Bailey would have it if they could change it.


  18. - Amalia - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 2:52 pm:

    Metric Media pushing the Arizona Catholic Tribune writing a front page piece on Sen. Mark Kelly and abortion is so brash that even the actual RC church had to say that they aren’t the ones who put out the paper. Proft and Uihlein want a theocracy with their religion in charge. NO.


  19. - Ugh - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 3:14 pm:

    Do these same folks fund all these watchdog groups? Anyone know? If there isn’t a report on that, would love to see one.


  20. - Snarkie from Schaumburg - Wednesday, Nov 2, 22 @ 3:47 pm:

    Now, I know the P in GOP really stands for Proft.
    I apologize if I am not the first to make that connection.


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