In addition, when the former Chicago Public Schools CEO closed his Paul Vallas for All Chicago campaign committee on Sept. 11, he still owed Link2Tek — the Asheville, North Carolina-based firm that sent the messages — $535,357 after paying the firm $350,000, according to state records.
Along with the outstanding debt, Vallas’s defunct campaign committee faces an ongoing lawsuit that claims the text messages violated federal law.
Because the campaign committee is closed, Vallas is not required to report when — or if — he pays off the debt, according to Matt Dietrich, the spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections.
“The debt becomes a private matter between the committee or those in charge of the committee and the creditors,” Dietrich said in a statement. “As far as the State Board of Elections is concerned, the committee is terminated and has no further reporting requirements.
Through representatives, Vallas declined to comment on his campaign’s use of text messages to reach voters or its remaining debt.
Link2Tek, which is also named in the federal complaint, did not respond to an email message from The Daily Line about the money it is owed by the Vallas campaign or its work for the campaign.
Vallas’ campaign amended his committee’s last quarterly report to reflect the debt to Link2Tek one day before officials filed paperwork with the Illinois State Board of Elections to close the committee.
Vallas, who joined the board of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in April, could open a new campaign committee if he decides to run for elected office again, according to state law.
According to its website, Link2Tek “offers candidate organization, data analytics, voter modeling and voter communication, including texts and voice calls.”
The Vallas campaign began texting Chicago voters in August 2018 with cryptic messages that campaign observers told The Daily Line walked a fine line between polling and advertising. Many of the Chicagoans who got the messages took to social media to complain about texts.
The texts sent by the Vallas campaign included a link to a microsite that included information about Vallas’ campaign. For example, a message about the need to “win the war on crime” included a link to click for more information.
Texting campaigns to cell phones are perfectly legal, even without the voter’s prior consent, so long as the messages aren’t being sent through what’s known as an “autodialer,” according to FCC rules.
FCC rules also allow campaigns to make autodialed or prerecorded voice calls to landlines, even without the recipient’s permission.
However, autodialed live calls and prerecorded voice messages are not allowed to be made to cell phones, pagers or other mobile devices without the recipient’s express consent.
The class-action lawsuit, filed by attorney James Vlahakis on behalf of Chicagoans Jake Campbell and Jeff Klueh, alleges the system used by Link2Tek is an autodialer “dressed in sheep’s clothing.”
Lawyers for Link2Tek urged a judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the texts did not violate federal law.
A date has not been set for a judge to rule on that motion to dismiss, Vlahakis said.
When the lawsuit was filed in January, Vallas called it a politically motivated “dirty trick.”
Alisa Kaplan, policy director for Reform for Illinois, said the price tag for the texts sent by the Vallas campaign was staggering.
“That’s a lot of money even in our super-charged environment,” Kaplan said. “I wonder if it raised enough stink to make other candidates think twice about sending texts like that.”
Vallas’ debt to Link2Tek is the largest amount owed to a single vendor by any of the 14 candidates who made the February ballot for Chicago mayor, according to an analysis of campaign finance records by The Daily Line.
Vallas also owes $19,000 to his brother, Dean Vallas, who helped run his campaign.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot forgave a $250,000 loan she made to her campaign committee, Lightfoot for Chicago, records show. That is allowed by state law as long as it is reported, Dietrich said.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Bill Daley, who finished in second and third place behind Lightfoot, have no outstanding debt in their campaign committees, according to state records.
Willie Wilson, who used his personal fortune to fund his race and finished fourth, still owes himself $1.5 million for his 2019 bid for mayor, according to state records.
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who finished fifth, owes four political strategy and law firms $228,778, according to state records. Mendoza’s largest debt is the $97,308 she owes to the firm of Adelstein & Associates.
Former Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Jerry Joyce, who finished seventh, still owes his wife Jannine Joyce $2.26 million, records show. Joyce’s campaign also owes $150,000 to Bridget Smagala and another $90,000 to the Bizzieri Law Offices and the Shannon Law Group.
Gery Chico, who finished eighth and is now the chairman of the board for the nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago, owes $178,154 to his closed campaign committee, records show. Neal Sales-Griffin, who finished in 14th place, owes $10,600 to his closed committee, records show.
Former candidates Amara Enyia, Garry McCarthy, Lashawn Ford and John Kozlar have no outstanding debt, records show.