Algonquin Township highway commissioner spends money on 'fake news' attack

Highway commissioner uses political dollars to spread message on Facebook

Before Andrew Gasser made the move of using a government-owned sign planted next to one of the busiest roads in McHenry County to label the Northwest Herald "fake news," the Algonquin Township highway commissioner spent money to spread similar anti-media rhetoric on his political Facebook page.

Gasser’s attack display appeared on the government sign Friday afternoon and drew sweeping criticism from elected officials and taxpayers from across McHenry County and beyond.

Keri-Lyn Krafthefer, a lawyer who co-wrote the handbook for Illinois’ township officials, even characterized Gasser’s message on the marquee as “political speech” and said Friday that his antics constituted an improper and illegal use of government property.

“This speech is not government speech,” said Krafthefer, an Ancel Glink attorney who co-authored the “Township Officials of Illinois Laws and Duties Handbook.” “That’s an improper use of public property.”

Gasser’s attack on the media began weeks before he went to the extreme of using government property to promote his agenda.

On July 22, Gasser paid for and published a sponsored Facebook post accusing the newspaper's reporters and editors of producing "#fakenews" – an inaccurate jab at content the publication never published online or otherwise.

“So much misinformation, bad reporting and yellow journalism in the Northworst Herald,” Gasser wrote in the post.

Politicians such as Gasser can pay money to boost the audience for posts, targeting Facebook users who hold specific interests and live within a certain distance of a specific location.

The Northwest Herald examined Gasser’s campaign finance records over the past two years and discovered the highway commissioner spent thousands of dollars to boost political content on Facebook.

From April 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, Gasser paid Facebook $1,677, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records. That’s almost as much as the $1,831 he paid Facebook in the year leading up to his upset victory over his predecessor, Bob Miller.

The Northwest Herald could not reach Gasser for comment Saturday.

Driving by the marquee sign Friday afternoon at 3702 Route 14, residents would have seen this message: "THE NORTHWORST HERALD IS FAKE NEWS."

The Northwest Herald tracked down Gasser on Friday to ask why he used the government marquee to criticize the free press.

“I put it on there because you’re fake news,” Gasser said, then turned his back and lumbered across the parking lot to his office. “I just don’t want to talk to fake news.”

Gasser’s relationship with the Northwest Herald has not been marred with animosity.

When the Northwest Herald published an April 29 story about Gasser's pink snowplow, the road commissioner linked to the story on his political Facebook page and shared: "The pink truck made the paper! What an awesome story. Nice to see when we can see the public sector partner with the private sector to do something wonderful."

Hours after Gasser published his "fake news" message on the government marquee outside his office, the road commissioner took to Facebook to promote a narrative he characterized as "real news" – a story about pension payouts to his political nemesis.

"Where is the outrage?" Gasser wrote. "This is #REALNEWS[.] You will not have this problem with me. Didn't take the health care or the politician pension. We cut taxes and instituted more internal controls to stop crap like this."