The Illinois Conservatives started as just a Facebook group in 2008, founded by then-18-year-old Zach Oltmanns, to act as a forum for conservatives across the state to discuss various races and policies.
Five years later, the Facebook group still exists and operates with the same function, but it has ballooned in membership to more than 3,000. The group’s leadership team also endorsed numerous candidates in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, with Oltmanns and others lending a hand to candidates and speaking on behalf of the group at events around the state.
Now, the group that started online with heavy youth involvement, is taking another, major step forward. The Illinois Conservatives group announced Monday it is becoming a state PAC, effective immediately, in order to better help conservative candidates in statewide races with grassroots support.
Oltmanns, 23, an Olge County Board member and president of the Illinois Conservatives, said he never expected the group to grow this large when it was formed, but he is excited for the opportunities becoming a PAC presents.
“When we started the Facebook group, we never knew it was going to be so big,” Oltmanns said. “Our endorsements have had some influence since then though, and we are going to be able to help conservative candidates even more now.”
Despite endorsing congressional candidates in the past, including former Reps Don Manzullo and Joe Walsh, becoming a state PAC will limit the Illinois Conservatives’ aid to just statewide elections. The change does, however, expand fundraising efforts for the group.
Oltmanns said a big motivating factor to become a PAC was that conservative candidates in Illinois are “routinely underfunded.” Demetri Broches, 26, the group’s vice president, echoed Oltmanns, adding that Illinois is a state that needs more support for conservative candidates.
"We are an organization that since its inception strives to promote the conservative movement in a state sorely deprived of it from too many of our elected officials,” Broches said. “Becoming a PAC, we now further assist good conservatives to win primaries and in the general election with financial support. Our organization is excited about this new chapter, and we look forward to playing a part to change this state for the better, and that starts with electing and sending more conservatives down to Springfield."
The group’s press release Monday stated “any candidates that are endorsed by the Illinois Conservatives will receive grassroots assistance, a greater outreach to younger voters, and additional volunteers to their campaigns.” The group also announced it is switching to a more “user-friendly” website at www.illinoispac.com.
As of last year, the Illinois Conservatives estimated that roughly 70 percent of their members were under the age of 30.