"Love him or hate him, Proft has changed the political landcape for the Republican Party." - Capitol Fax | Mar 19, 2014

Rauner-backed PAC spending big money to try to oust Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin

by Mike Nolan | Dec. 7, 2017, 12:50pm

n the days leading up to Tuesday's election, Orland Park voters are seeing an unprecedented barrage of television ads and mailers focused on the race for mayor.

The cable TV spots, something not typically seen in a municipal race, are financed by the political action committee Liberty Principles, and its president, radio talk show host Dan Proft, said the PAC is spending close to $200,000 on ads critical of incumbent Mayor Dan McLaughlin. The PAC is aligned with and funded in part by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, and the PAC last fall financed ads critical of Democrats on behalf of Republican candidates in several House and Senate races.

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The ads and mailers allege McLaughlin, running for his seventh term, is to be blamed for a sharp increase in the village's tax rate and a fall in property values. The messages also slam a decision made by the Village Board to make the mayor's job a full-time position, with a corresponding jump in pay and pension.

McLaughlin has used robocalls, emails and mailers to rebut the PAC's assault, which he said distort the village's true financial condition.

Proft said that the mayor is "fleecing the taxpayers for his personal benefit" and is "completely indifferent to the bottom line of anybody but himself."

The TV ads began appearing more than a week ago, and the three spots will continue to run until election day, and another mailer targeting McLaughlin was due to hit mailboxes either Friday or Saturday, Proft said.

He declined to give details on how many homes the cable ads are hitting or how often they are running, but said "everyone who watches cable television (in Orland Park) has seen these ads."

Dan Proft

Dan Proft is a talk show host and president of Liberty Principles, a political action committee that he says is spending close to $200,000 on ads critical of Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin. (Handout)

The ads don't mention McLaughlin's challenger, business owner Keith Pekau, who said he doesn't subscribe to cable TV but was made aware of the ads when they first began airing more than a week ago.

Both he and McLaughlin had received notice from the state board of elections that, according to the notice, "independent expenditures totaling more than $100,000 (in aggregate) had been made opposing Dan McLaughlin."

Proft, a onetime Republican candidate for governor, said the PAC is spending in the neighborhood of $175,000 for the TV spots and roughly another $20,000 for the mailings.

The mayor is now paid $40,000, plus another $3,000 a year for serving as liquor commissioner, but the salary will increase to $150,000 and the job be expanded to full time, with the added duties of being Orland Park's lead person on economic development matters.

A Daily Southtown analysis that assumes McLaughlin wins re-election and does not continue as mayor beyond 2021 shows his initial pension would be more than $100,000 per year, under the higher salary, growing by 3 percent simple interest each year. By comparison, under the position's current salary, the mayor's pension would start out at $30,000 if he retired after a seventh term.

Village officials previously noted that, based on the higher salary, the village's contribution toward the mayor's pension would be $19,000 per year, with those payments ending once the mayor retires from office.

McLaughlin has said that making the job full time will end up saving the village, and taxpayers, money for both salary and pensions as the Village Board had also considered hiring a second assistant village manager as well as someone to supervise economic development.

Pekau and the PAC's messages have criticized the village's debt load and tied McLaughlin to a fall in property values.

McLaughlin insists the village has a "reasonable" amount of debt and has relied on borrowing only to finance public improvements. Noting that, during the recession, across "the whole country, property values were down," he said that properties in Orland Park "held onto their values better and are coming back stronger and faster than other communities."

He's responded to the PAC's ads with emails and mailers, such as one with a face peering out and the words "Who's trying to buy Orland Park and why?" This week, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin sent out an email highlighting the village as "one of the most financially sound municipalities in Illinois, with little debt." McLaughlin said the email went to the senator's supporters in the village but he doesn't know how many residents received it.

McLaughlin said the ads and mailers lambasting him do not present "a true picture" of the village's financial health, and that he has "confidence in the voters of Orland Park to see through a lot of this."

He said it is "very unusual for a big, statewide PAC to get involved in a local race."

At its website, Liberty Principles says it supports policymakers who are "committed to the economic liberty policy agenda.

The TV spots and mailers in the Orland Park race are an unexpected windfall for Pekau, a Republican, who said that the Village Board's decision last fall to make the mayor's job a full-time position prompted him to run.

Not having previously run for elected office, Pekau's campaign is largely self-funded and he said that even without the PAC's tacit support of his candidacy "I think we're winning regardless and I think we're going to win," but that the PAC-financed "attack against my opponent is not going to hurt us."

mnolan@tribpub.com

Twitter @mnolan_j