November 28, 2022
Local News | The Times

Local News

New publication is conservative PAC-sponsored

Residents received the Illinois Valley Times in their mailboxes this week.

Despite its local name, the new publication has no presence here. Its parent organization, which is largely funded by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, is based in Chicago. One of its writers lives in New York.

The newspaper includes no mailing address or phone number and gives readers no information about who runs it, though it provides an email address and Twitter account.

The Illinois Valley Times, which has no ads, is one of at least a dozen sister newspapers around the state that are promoting Republicans, often those from battleground legislative districts.

The local version ran stories critical of state Rep. Andy Skoog, D-La Salle and complimentary of his opponent, Jerry Long, a Streator Republican. The eight-page paper includes four stories involving the candidates in the 76th House District, which consists of all or parts of La Salle, Bureau, Putnam and Livingston counties.

One story says Skoog is "part of the Madigan Machine," referring to House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. Another touts Long's blue-collar credentials. Still another features the Republican Party's assertion Skoog voted for a budget that included higher taxes, which is untrue.

Skoog's side of the story wasn't in these articles.

'A point of view'

In the spring, The Times discovered a series of papers were cropping up around the state that highlighted the troubles of former state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, who has been under investigation for alleged campaign spending irregularities.

The Times found the publications were the work of the Chicago-based Liberty Principles PAC, which contracts with LocalLabs Inc. to provide content for its publications.

In a March interview, Dan Proft, chairman of Liberty Principles, acknowledged the papers' conservative perspective.

"Every paper has a point of view," he said at the time. "The only difference is that at least we're honest about it. We endorse candidates like the Tribune and the Daily Herald. We have a point of view that is expressed in the stories we decide to pursue. We let the content stand on its own and let readers decide whether the content is valuable or not."

During the last quarter, Liberty Principles received $2.5 million from Rauner and $1.5 million from Wisconsin businessman Richard Uihlein, according to reports filed with the state Board of Elections.

In an interview, Long said the publication took him by surprise, saying he had no idea it was coming out. He said he never spoke with Carol Ostrow, the reporter who wrote three stories about him in the inaugural edition.

'No connection to campaigns'

Ostrow, who lives in upstate New York, said Thursday she is a freelance writer for LocalLabs. Her work also appears in many of the Illinois Valley Times' sister papers. She said she obtained Long's quotes from Facebook and other online sources.

"I have absolutely no connection to the campaigns," she said. "I'm instructed by my editor. They give me sources."

In the March interview, Proft said his papers had no "defined horizon."

"The plan is to continue producing the papers," he said.

Proft and Skoog couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.