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A slew of campaign-style commercials slamming both sides of the aisle for Illinois' skyrocketing property taxes are a signal that a significant rift within the Illinois GOP is far from healed. Here's why.

October 04, 2018 11:47 AM

MARK GUARINO

A media campaign raising alarms about skyrocketing property taxes is a signal that a rift in the state’s Republican Party shows no sign of healing. The campaign comes from Liberty Principles, the Illinois super PAC that once counted Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner as one of its biggest donors.

"Save Your Home Now" ads running on television and radio advocate for a 1 percent “hard cap on property taxes as a percentage of home value,” which it points out has been implemented in California and Indiana. The website claims the plan would halve the property taxes of most Illinois homeowners.

It’s also the same plan proposed by former Rauner opponent Jeanne Ives, the Republican state legislator who challenged the governor in the primary earlier this year. Ives and other independent-minded Republicans have slammed Rauner for not doing enough to bring down taxes in a state whose real estate taxes are the second-highest in the nation.

Liberty Principles Chairman Dan Proft said the purpose of the campaign is to support “independent conservative reform candidates” across Illinois who are committed to the property tax issue. Proft is a Republican political operative and radio host who in recent years has created an empire of stealth conservative media outlets, including local “newspapers” with a clear ideology.

Proft was once a senior fellow at the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank run by a Rauner ally.

Rauner last personally donated $2.5 million to Liberty Principles in June 2016 to help fight for candidates in key legislative races.

According to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, Liberty Principles has $5.5 million; its biggest donors have been Rauner, Lake Forest businessman Richard Uihlein and billionaire Ken Griffin.

But things changed last year when Rauner signed bills supporting abortion rights, immigration protections and more that alarmed the far-right contingent in his party. The divide played out in the primary where Rauner won only by a slim margin, 51 percent, despite spending $17 million on advertising. This new round of advertising is an indication of the fractures that will open up in the Republican Party should Rauner not win re-election.

Earlier this year, Rauner said he would not give “another nickel” to the Illinois Policy Institute after the Chicago Sun-Times and ProPublica questioned its finances and whether its executives were illegally profiting from the nonprofit. Uihlein, a longtime Rauner backer who donated $2.6 million to his first campaign for governor, backed Ives instead.

Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said that efforts like Save Your Home are designed to “really purify and take over the House Republican caucus” from both Democrats and Rauner allies.

“Theyʼve pretty much given up on Rauner,” he said. “Certainly, if Rauner loses, the size of the Republican caucus and the House shrinks, the fight will then be much greater.”

Indeed, Proft said that he is not endorsing Rauner and Liberty Principles is not getting involved in the current governorʼs race. Instead, he said he is focused only on “leadership changes in the Republican Party and General Assembly. I donʼt care if you are a Republican or a Democrat—if you support the status quo, we wonʼt support you.”

He said the candidates endorsed on the Save Your Home website “represent a break from both parties.”

One of the candidates Save Your Home is supporting is Jillian Bern, a Republican from Schaumburg who is running to defeat Democratic incumbent Michelle Mussman for the Illinois House's 56th District.

The state Republican Party tried to oust Bernas in the primary by supporting her opponent, Charlotte “Char” Kegaris. Bernas is one of four candidates Proft backed during the primary who won their races.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Bernas received $186,000 from Liberty Principles in the primary. She told Crainʼs she was not aware of Save Your Homeʼs endorsement until the ads began running on television and radio. “Iʼm certain they looked at my campaign page and saw Iʼm standing for property tax reform,” she said.

Bernas said that she will not take a pension if elected, which will represent a way “legislators can have skin in the game” in helping reducing the tax burden. “How can you always ask taxpayers for more money and thereʼs no reform?” she said. “We need new independent leaders who can make a difference.”

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