I’ve been spending some of my time recently sending out emails and making phone calls to retirees around the state in support of the ballot measure changing Illinois’ flat tax to a graduated income tax.
I’m hearing a lot of support for the amendment. But I’m also hearing those who have only heard that the amendment will lead to taxing retirement income.
Which is total nonsense.
Still, I got an email response this morning: “No! It will lead to taxation of our pensions! Do not trust Illinois politicians!”
To be clear. I don’t trust Illinois politicians. And if there were a ballot measure to not trust Illinois politicians I would be all in.
But where do my retiree friends get this stuff about the amendment leading to taxing our pensions? Taxing retirement income is something Illinois politicians could do right now if they wanted. It would be political suicide. But they could do it even without a constitutional amendment.
The source of so much disinformation about the Fair Tax amendment and other political issues is the network of phony right-wing news outlets, most serving small towns and downstate communities. This fake news network is exposed in an investigative story in The New York Times today.
The network is largely overseen by Brian Timpone, a TV reporter turned internet entrepreneur who has sought to capitalize on the decline of local news organizations for nearly two decades. He has built the network with the help of several others, including a Texas brand-management consultant and a conservative Chicago radio personality
The Chicago radio personality is Dan Proft. Proft’s fake news outlets were profiled in a Chicago Tribune article in 2018.
Recently obtained documents and interviews show that an organization called Think Freely Media helped fund the operation that produced the article for the East Central Reporter’s website. As a nonprofit, Think Freely is forbidden by federal law from engaging in politics, and it has described the articles it funded as news.
But State Board of Elections records also show a political committee, Liberty Principles, paid the same private company to publish the story in a print newspaper and mail it. That group, which state law says must spend its money on politicking, has labeled such content political ads.
What these organizations have in common is one of the state’s most visible and controversial political figures, Dan Proft. Though Proft is known for backing conservative candidates for office through Liberty Principles, recent tax, business and campaign filings illuminate how other organizations with ties to Proft helped spread his political views through publications that showcase candidates he supports.
The New York Times investigation reveals that our old friend John Tillman from the Illinois Policy Institute also has connections to Timpone.
John Tillman, an activist who once led the Illinois Opportunity Project and whose other groups have paid Mr. Timpone’s companies hundreds of thousands of dollars, said in an email that some of the payments to Mr. Timpone were to underwrite his news operation. Mr. Timpone, he said, allows “community leaders and influencers” to “pitch (not ‘order’) story ideas.”
This web of right-ring influencers and the rise of fake news disinformation outlets is not surprising as real newspapers and real reporters have become more scarce.
It is one more reason why I make the phone calls and send out the emails to my list of retirees. I still believe that personal contact by those of us with facts can win against even these billionaire-backed phonies.