Huntley School District 158 candidates disagree on campaign spending’s effectiveness

An out-of-state political action committee donated $15K, spent thousands on printing, food

Huntley School District 158 board candidates (top to bottom) Andrew Bittman, Gina Galligar, Laura Murray and (not pictured) Michael Thompson were leading in the April 4, 2023, election, unofficial election results show.

An out-of-state political action committee spent more than $3,800 to support four candidates running for the Huntley School District 158 Board, much to the consternation of some of their opponents.

The McHenry County Citizens for Lower Taxes committee, based in Hudson, Wisconsin, endorsed the four candidates – Andrew Bittman, Laura Murray, Michael Thompson and Gina Galligar – ahead of the April 4 election, according to state election records.

The race for District 158′s four seats saw 12 total candidates competing, the most of any school board race in McHenry County.

All four candidates endorsed by the political action committee won, according to election results certified Tuesday. All of the incumbents seeking another term lost.

The four candidates, who ran as a slate, campaigned on a platform of lower taxes and more fiscal responsibility, an emphasis on test scores and the removal of what they considered political agendas from the classroom.

The McHenry County Citizens for Lower Taxes reported about $1,767 in expenditures to Bittman for office supplies, about $236 to Murray for office supplies and a website and $500 to Thompson for office supplies.

The committee did not report any campaign contributions or in-kind donations.

The way the committee reported the spending “probably means they gave the money to the candidate with the understanding that it would be used for the goods/services described,” Illinois State Board of Elections spokesperson Matt Dietrich said.

That is not something the state would require corrective action on, Dietrich said.

Attempts to reach officials behind the McHenry County Citizens for Lower Taxes committee were unsuccessful.

The committee also reported spending about $335 at Huntley-based Service Printing Corp. to support each of the four candidates. An additional almost $7,700 was spent at the company with no candidate listed as a beneficiary, state records show.

I feel like we lost to well-funded signs and nontruths.”

—  Huntley School District 158 board candidate William Gehren

The committee spent all of the $15,000 it received in early March from former congressional candidate Catalina Lauf, according to the report. It received no other contributions.

None of the candidates in the race reported campaign contributions, as it likely was not required, Dietrich said Tuesday.

That requirement kicks in once a candidate raises $5,000, and oftentimes candidates in local races don’t reach that threshold, Dietrich said.

“Everyone gets just under $5,000 worth of free fundraising,” Dietrich said.

Incumbent William Gehren, who lost his seat after serving for more than a decade on the board, said in an email Wednesday that he raised no money for the race.

He said he doesn’t think the position is one where money should be raised, since it’s a volunteer position and “you can’t have biases or owe anyone anything.”

“I feel like we lost to well-funded signs and nontruths – mainly the promise to lower taxes, [which will never happen],” Gehren said in an email.

People don’t vote for signs or fancy literature. They vote for the candidate and the message they’re putting out.”

—  Huntley School District 158 school board candidate Michael Thompson

Thompson said he and the candidates in his slate won because they got their message out through talking with people, meet-and-greets and “hitting the pavement every weekend.” He thinks the incumbents and many challengers failed to do that.

Thompson said he doesn’t feel like he’s beholden to anybody because of the money, noting that it was Lauf who donated all the funds to the committee, and she doesn’t currently hold office.

“People don’t vote for signs or fancy literature,” he said. “They vote for the candidate and the message they’re putting out. That’s what won us the race.”

Incumbent Jonathan Dailey, who had been appointed to the role in November, said he did not raise money either and spent his own money to finance his campaign.

Dailey said in an email Wednesday that he thinks too many candidates ran individually, “whereas the candidates that were successful ran as a slate.”

The four winners also “brought in significant amounts of money from outside parties,” and they “flooded voters … with their materials,” he added.

Galligar said the money was “important, but wasn’t as big of a deal as everyone is trying to make it to be.”

She agreed with Thompson that her slate put in the work by walking neighborhoods and talking with people, which is what brought people out to vote. She said she also doesn’t feel there are concerns about potential conflicts of interest.

“We saw the slate of 12 and, quite frankly, thought we should get organized,” Galligar said. “These people came to us and said they liked what we were doing. There are no kickbacks.”

Attempts to reach Bittman, Murray, as well as candidates Kate Policheri, Melissa Maiorino, Stephen Buchs and Paula Yensen, were unsuccessful.