Illinois governor’s race shapes as much as be a battle of the billionaires


When hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin determined to throw $50mn of his personal cash behind a candidate to unseat a fellow billionaire from the Illinois governor’s mansion, the huge measurement of his spending ought to have made it a foolproof plan.

The solely downside: a rival Republican billionaire had the identical thought. Now, the race pits three of the richest males in US politics towards each other and has come to symbolise the most recent pattern in state-level political races — candidates financed by only one rich, highly-motivated donor.

The incumbent, Democrat JB Pritzker, is an inheritor to the Hyatt resort fortune who has self-funded his marketing campaign to the quantity of $125mn. Republican Richard Irvin, a mainstream mayor of the state’s second-largest metropolis, is backed by Griffin, chief govt of Citadel. And his rival for the Republican nomination is Darren Bailey, a far-right state senator who has obtained greater than $9mn from GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein.

While Uihlein has injected considerably much less into the race than Griffin, and bought concerned at a later date, it’s the Uihlein-backed Bailey who’s polling 15 factors forward of Irvin, in keeping with a brand new ballot of seemingly Republican voters within the June 28 major.

The election is on observe to be the costliest gubernatorial race in US historical past, in keeping with OpenSecrets, the non-partisan watchdog group.

It may even be a litmus take a look at of how particular person donors can wield affect by writing an enormous cheque to assist a candidate early on within the race — a pattern that has grown because the Supreme Court lifted marketing campaign finance limits in 2010. Traditionally, billionaires like Uihlein, a transport provides magnate, and Griffin, would funnel their donations by way of occasion committees and PACs, which might then decide candidates to again.

Griffin and Uihlein are usually not alone in going the direct route. Tech billionaire Peter Thiel has lately made a behavior of writing $10mn and $20mn cheques to rightwing midterm candidates effectively earlier than their primaries.

Richard Irvin, left, and Darren Bailey

Even on this small universe of multimillion greenback particular person donations, Griffin’s giving has attracted consideration. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” mentioned one Republican fundraiser.

Before the Supreme Court choice, political donations have been capped within the hundreds of {dollars}. “If a corporate PAC makes a $10,000 donation in a cycle, that is huge. You have that candidate’s ear, you have almost unlimited access,” the Republican fundraiser mentioned. With Griffin donating within the tens of tens of millions: “The amount of power he has is unbelievable.”

So far this cycle, Griffin has donated greater than $65mn to largely Republican candidates on the federal and state stage, in keeping with information from OpenSecrets. In the 2020 cycle, he gave over $180mn to state and federal candidates, whereas in Illinois, he has pumped $179mn into races since 2002, in keeping with information from the Illinois State Board of Elections.

While Illinois is a reliably Democratic state in presidential elections, there’s considerably extra competitors on the gubernatorial stage. The state behaves like Massachusetts, Vermont and Maryland — all blue bastions that frequently elect Republican governors. Of the six Illinois governors since 1991, half have been Republicans, together with Pritzker’s predecessor Bruce Rauner, one other multimillionaire turned politician.

For Griffin, the state’s richest man, the Illinois governor’s race is private. In November 2021, he instructed reporters that he would go “all-in” to financially again whichever candidate he thought had an opportunity to defeat Pritzker, with whom he has clashed on tax regulation and policing.

“Richard Irvin is the exact opposite of JB Pritzker,” Griffin instructed the Financial Times. “As mayor of Aurora, Richard has successfully delivered on the issues Illinoisans care most about.”

Pritzker, then again, has failed to cut back “the senseless violence and corruption engulfing the state”, Griffin added, insisting the incumbent — whose sister Penny was Barack Obama’s commerce secretary — has “focused on his own political image and ambitions”.

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Representatives for Pritzker and Uihlein didn’t reply to requests for remark. Bailey’s marketing campaign famous that the state senator had the assist of greater than 20,000 volunteers, along with Uihlein’s monetary backing. Irvin has mentioned {that a} vote for Bailey, whose rightwing views and hardline anti-abortion platform may delay the state’s tens of millions of average voters, is a vote for Pritzker.

“It’s like two bullies in a playground,” mentioned Chris Mooney, a political-science professor on the University of Illinois at Chicago, referring to Pritzker and Griffin.

One Democratic strategist concerned in Illinois politics known as the Republican major “surprisingly intense”, warning the final election might be, too, regardless of the money Pritzker himself has poured into his marketing campaign.

“Money can’t buy you everything, and Pritzker should not be seen as some sacred cow that can never be defeated. He obviously can,” the strategist added.

Illinois has lengthy had a convention of vibrant — and infrequently corrupt — political figures, many cast within the rough-and-tumble world of Chicago’s bare-knuckled campaigns the place unions, property builders and a handful of political dynasties vied for dominance. Griffin, Uihlein and Pritzker are altering that.

“The typical machine politics that dominated the money game . . . has now been replaced by a handful of billionaires,” the strategist mentioned. “It may reduce corruption, but I don’t know if that’s better for democracy.”

Despite the rising variety of candidates securing a single billionaire backer — in addition to billionaire candidates self-financing their campaigns — it stays unclear whether or not the funding mannequin is a route to success.

“When you have a candidate who’s getting most of their money from one specific person or group . . . it isn’t the same as getting money from a wide variety of constituents,” mentioned Pete Quist, deputy analysis director of OpenSecrets.

Most donors who’re prepared to offer candidates small-dollar contributions are additionally extra motivated to vote, Quist added.

Todd Maisch, chief govt of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, mentioned he seen the billionaire political mannequin as unnatural and unsustainable and believed Irvin’s incapacity to realize traction regardless of Griffin’s backing was “the end of billionaires deciding what is or isn’t going to happen in Illinois”.

Others are much less sanguine. “I don’t think [the billionaires] are going to go away,” mentioned one other Democratic strategist. It may “take a while before they get to a place where labour [unions have] been in Illinois”.

Additional reporting by Caitlin Gilbert in New York