Alleged conspiracy to shut down Illinois newspapers behind Sen. Harmon's opposition to Senate bill
Illinois state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) doesn't want to discuss his "one-liner" about a conspiracy he alleges would shut down most of Illinois' newspapers or his continued opposition to legislation that could save the cash-strapped state millions.
"Ha!" Harmon, the state Senate's assistant majority leader, said in an email to the Kane County Reporter following the newspaper's request for clarification about the one-liner. "Thanks for the follow-up. It was an inside joke at an otherwise long and boring meeting. Don't take it too seriously. One of those 'you had to be there' moments."
The Kane County Reporter reached out to Harmon after his May 14 email to Illinois state Senate President John J. Cullerton (D-Chicago) surfaced, in which Harmon included an editorial he wrote two years ago describing the conspiracy.
"A more expansive take on my one-liner in bill review about Dan Proft," Harmon said at the top of his email to Cullerton, above the editorial.
Proft, AM 560 radio talk show host, former Republican candidate for Illinois governor and a dogged proponent of the Conservative voice in the largely blue state, is a principal of Local Government Information Services which owns the Kane County Reporter.
Harmon's email to Cullerton surfaced as Illinois state Sen. James D. "Jim" Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) is trying to gain traction for Senate Bill 1059, which would allow counties the option to post tax assessments online instead of in a newspaper. Sen. Donald P. "Don" DeWitte (R-St. Charles) is a co-sponsor of SB 1059.
"This would provide a convenience to tax payers because they could check the assessments anytime instead of having to wait for a newspaper," Oberweis told the Kane County Reporter. "In addition, it would save substantial taxpayer dollars. Mark Armstrong, Kane County Assessor, estimates that this bill would save Kane County about $150,000 per year. So across the state of Illinois that would result in the savings of millions of taxpayer dollars."
SB 1059 also would pull the state further into 21st century technology by allowing counties to use website postings, Oberweis said.
"Quite frankly, all municipal, school and park district postings should also be allowed to use website postings but they are not," he said. "The bill I filed two years ago would have allowed all of those things but, in a compromise, we agreed to seek approval just for tax assessments."
It was Oberweis' similar legislation in 2017 that prompted the op-ed piece penned by Harmon, published in May of that year, after a constituent, publisher Dan Haley, said it would hurt the bottom line of one of Haley's publications, the Wednesday Journal.
"But he [Haley] said something more profound that got me thinking," Harmon said in the op-ed piece. "Democracy depends on a vibrant local press to police government, he reminded me. If lawmakers kill local newspapers by eliminating the regular revenue stream that public notices provide, who will be left to call out politicians who don't act in the public interest?"
The op-ed piece explained how the 2017 legislation was part of a conspiracy to, among other things, take over the state's Republication Party, eliminate labor unions, disenfranchise voters and "disable the free and independent press or - better yet - starve it to death."
"I'm not one prone to believing conspiracy theories," Harmon said in the final sentences of his editorial. "I usually look for a more innocent explanation. But I can't any longer. Our democracy is under a full-fledged and coordinated national attack by the oligarchs."
Proft was not named in Harmon's editorial but, for two years, Springfield politicos have shared the open secret that Harmon was referring to Proft in the op-ed piece. Harmon's email to Cullerton about the "one-liner" during a bill review meeting confirms what he meant in his op-ed piece about the "slew of fake newspapers" having been set up by "allies" of now former Gov. Bruce Rauner; that the conspiracy would end with "Dan Proft owning all the newspapers."
Oberweis said he found the argument "that taxpayers have a responsibility to prop up losing newspapers so that they will stay in business to report news in an unbiased fashion" to be dubious and that he has discussed the matter with Harmon.
"Don further argues that if we stop subsidizing local papers, the only ones left will be those financially supported by Dan Proft," Oberweis said. "I pointed out to Don that I thought Democrats in Illinois have a lot more funds available than Republicans. Governor [J.B.] Pritzker spent $170 million of his own money last year on the Governor's race. My guess is that's more than all the money Dan Proft has handled in his life. It's certainly a lot more than I have ever handled."
Harmon did not respond to a Kane County Reporter question about whether he really believed - and still believes - Proft would end up owning all the newspapers in Illinois if the state no longer paid out millions of dollars in subsidies in the form of classified ad revenue.
Harmon also did not respond to a Kane County Reporter question about why it would be preferable to publish tax assessments in a newspaper, online or otherwise, rather than on state government-owned websites.
With the General Assembly in its final days before the state's Constitutional deadline to pass legislation by a majority vote, Oberweis said even puzzling opposition to legislation must be taken seriously.
Oberweis said he hopes SB 1059 will emerge from the Senate Subcommittee on Local Polices this week but that it will be "primarily up" to Subcommittee Chair Linda Holmes (D-Aurora).
Oberweis added that the bill is getting support from unexpected quarters.
"Democrat Senator Steve Landek, who owns one or more local papers, is now supporting the bill even though it might hurt him financially," Oberweis said. "We don’t see enough of that kind of statesmanship in Springfield. I am also hoping that Senate President John Cullerton will help move the bill forward as well."
Organizations in this Story
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner • Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker • Illinois State Senate • Illinois State Senator Don Harmon • Illinois State Senator Donald P. DeWitte • Illinois State Senator Jim Oberweis (R-25th) • Illinois State Senator John J. Cullerton (D-6th) • Illinois State Senator Linda Holmes (D-42nd) • Illinois State Senator Steven M. Landek (D-12th) • State of Illinois General Assembly • Wednesday Journal Inc.