On Saturday, I was disinvited from speaking to the Springfield Tea Party due to a column I wrote criticizing the Illinois Policy Institute and its financial and other interests in the Illinois virtual charter school plan and the $16 million in tax dollars that is at stake. Illinois Policy Institute officials put pressure on the tea party group and the group finally caved. They also wrote a threatening email to Chicago Now staff demanding that the column be taken down.
According to the email from the apologetic tea party organizer:
I got a call from the planning committee today about the situation with what they perceive to be an attack on the Illinois Policy Institute, I thought we had the speaking situation taken care of but with the email today they have requested that you not speak tomorrow. This is very difficult for me but I don’t always have full control of every situation and this is one of those times, its out of my hands and I feel very badly about it. I consider you my friend and that will not change. This request does not come from IPI or Christine, its my planning committee who have made this request, so sorry about it…
This email came from a very good, decent person – and I don’t hold her responsible for this.
But this raises the question: Does the Illinois Policy Institute control this tea party group? That would seem to be the case.
So questioning the Illinois Policy Institute is an attack? If Illinois Policy Institute officials are engaged in wrongdoing, if they are violating their tax status, if they are enriching themselves, if they are misusing the organization to advance themselves politically, does that mean that no one has the right to question them? Isn’t that the problem we have in Illinois? That we can’t challenge or question corruption where we see it? And isn’t that why the tea party is supposed to exist?
So much for the tea party and freedom of speech. I am both disappointed and saddened by this turn-of-events.
As many people know, I take the defense of our First Amendment freedoms very seriously. I have ever since President Clinton had me arrested back in 1993 for daring to ask him about the middle class tax cut. You only learn to value freedom when it is taken away from you. I was very young at the time and didn’t understand how the federal government could abuse its power. The mainstream media was more than happy to sweep the incident under the rug. It was all by design – I wasn’t arrested at the scene but four hours later federal agents surrounded my home. Fox News did not exist yet but Rush Limbaugh, the National Review, and conservative columnist Dennis Byrne did and they called out Clinton for his abuse of power. That’s the power of conservative media.
Those members of the media stood up for me and I will never forget that. We all need someone to stand up for us. To tell the other side of the story. To inform us so that we can act. That is the reason we need to have more conservatives in the media.
The six month ordeal to fight the charges defined who I am and taught me that we have no choice but to fight evil wherever we find it. I have fought back ever since.
That is also why I – early on – became friends with Andrew Breitbart and became a contributor to Breitbart.com.
Andrew was the reason why my encounter with Rahm Emanuel and CBS reporter Jay Levine went viral. He defended me when I was under attack by the mainstream liberal media – despite the fact that Levine was caught-on-tape threatening me for asking Rahm a question. He came to my defense when AM 560’s Amy Jacobson – who despised Andrew – attacked me on the air. AM 560 WIND – the so-called conservative radio station in Illinois – caved into the pressure too and soon I was off-the-air. He was angry when WIND wouldn’t allow me to cover TeaCon for the Washington Times Communities and called the station to yell at them. And all because I dared to ask a question Rahm didn’t want to be asked. But isn’t that what we, as conservative media, do?
We have to continue to ask questions. If the Illinois Policy Institute thinks it can control the discussion, every tea party person should be up-in-arms. If we can’t question things, then we aren’t truly free.
What happened also just proves that I am right about the ethical problems at this organization. I am not the first to question Illinois Policy Institute, its president John Tillman and Dan Proft. Other media have questioned the operation and that of its connected organizations, including the Illinois Opportunity Project, which exists to fund Dan Proft for Governor, his PACs and pays him a consulting fee. And, make no mistake, what Illinois Policy Institute and surrogates for John Tillman and Dan Proft are doing with this virtual tax school grab deserves to be questioned.
That’s why I make no apologies for questioning Illinois Policy Institute officials. In fact, I am emboldened to write even more.
Those of you who are reading this blog – you can do something too.
Call or write the Illinois Policy Institute and ask them the tough questions about this virtual school charter plan. Ask them what they will be doing with the $16 million in state tax dollars they are vying for? Ask them if they will control jobs, salaries, and contracts to vendors? Ask them why they haven’t disclosed their financial interest in the plan in any of the news blasts they have been issuing to school choice activists? Ask them why they are promoting K12, Inc. – a for-profit company – that has a failing record in education? Ask them if school choice means the choice between a bad public school and an even worse virtual one? Ask them why they have a board member connected to dirty Cicero president Larry Dominick and mob-connected figures like Jeff Pesek?
The questions about the Illinois Policy Institute are just beginning. After all, that’s what the First Amendment is all about.
William J. Kelly is a conservative columnist with the Washington Times Communities and contributes to the American Spectator and other publications. He heads-up an Emmy award-winning TV production house with offices in Chicago. He is a former 2010 statewide candidate for Illinois comptroller.