Illinois judge orders ‘pink slime’ publications to remove voters’ personal information

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CHICAGO — A Lake County judge has given the company that publishes far-right websites and flyers designed to look like newspapers until 5 p.m. Monday to remove some personally identifiable voter information it publicly posted earlier this year in apparent violation of state law.

In an order issued Thursday in response to a complaint from Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul, the publishers of the so-called “pink slime” publications must remove registered voters’ full birthdates and street addresses from their websites. That is consistent with publicly released state voting information under federal law.

The publications also are enjoined from posting additional voter lists that include full birthdates and street addresses until at least June 7, when a hearing is scheduled on the matter, according to the order issued by Lake County Associate Circuit Judge Daniel Jasica and agreed to by the publishers, Local Government Information Services.

LGIS publishes the flyers and websites throughout Illinois with names that attempt to make them appear to be newspapers, such as the “Chicago City Wire,” the “DuPage Policy Journal” and the “Will County Gazette.” But the websites and print products publish little more than poor-quality content disguised as news that pushes far-right political candidates and their agendas, earning the publications the “pink slime” moniker.

LGIS is operated by Brian Timpone, a long-ago Illinois House Republican spokesman who has launched dozens of “pink slime” publications in Illinois and across the country. He is an ally and business partner of onetime failed Republican gubernatorial candidate, political operative and right-wing radio talk show host Dan Proft of Naples, Florida.

Illinois State Board of Elections officials said they received dozens of complaints after the LGIS publications posted the names, addresses and birthdates of voters by precinct, including whether they had voted, using voting lists from 2016 and 2020 that by law are only to be used by political organizations and not for other purposes. The data isn’t supposed to be shared with outside organizations.

Proft had a political committee in 2016 that was entitled to use the information for political purposes. That PAC, Liberty Principles, paid LGIS to have stories favoring their candidates be printed and distributed. That prompted the State Board of Elections to require the publications to show that the product was paid for by Liberty Principles. But Liberty Principles shut down at the end of 2019. Another Proft committee, the People Who Play By The Rules PAC, was formed last year. But state elections officials said it was unclear if the newer PAC was the source of the 2020 voting list information.

People Who Play By The Rules has made headlines recently in other ways as it owes the state fines for failing to timely post campaign finance documents and is currently the subject of an election board review over whether it illegally coordinated its spending activity with Darren Bailey, the defeated 2022 GOP candidate for governor.

In its initial complaint concerning the publication of the registered voters’ personal information, Raoul’s office contended “publishing voters’ birthdates and full street addresses has put voters at imminent risk of identity theft and has placed several categories of voters, such as members of the judiciary and law enforcement, in harm’s way.”

Warning that the potential harm to voters, “including identity theft or worse, to their physical safety, will be irreparable,” Raoul’s office noted that LGIS had ignored election board requests to pull the information from the company’s websites.

“Since January 1, 2024, (LGIS) has published thousands of articles on its websites, each containing a purported list of registered voters in a given voting precinct, including such voters’ birthdates and full street addresses, and indicating whether they did or did not vote in the 2020 election,” Raoul’s office told the court. “For example, there are roughly 408 such articles with purported registered voter lists and voter information in various Lake County voting precincts published on (LGIS’s) ‘Lake County Gazette’ website.”

The voting lists, Raoul’s office said, “include prominent State elected officials, current and former members of the judiciary, and law enforcement officers, and likely also victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.”