• Ben Szalinski
    FEB 22, 2022


    How Illinois’ 22 billionaires spend their money on political campaigns

    Gov. JB Pritzker speaks at an event in October 2021.

    The 2022 elections are expected to be more expensive than ever in Illinois, with two of Illinois’ wealthiest people already pouring in more than $100 million this year into political accounts.

    Illinois is home to 22 billionaires, according to Forbes’ 2021 billionaire list. While some are actively involved in politics — either with financial donations or, in one case, by presiding over the state as its governor  — not all give massive amounts of money to political campaigns, records from the State Board of Elections show.   

    Ken Griffin – Citadel CEO  

    Illinois’ wealthiest man is rumored to be financing his own full slate of candidates for statewide offices this year. Griffin made his support known for Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor public last week with a $20 million donation. He’s also expected to financially back Rep. Tom Demmer’s (R-Dixon) run for treasurer, former U.S. Attorney John Milhiser’s run for secretary of state, attorney Steve Kim’s run for attorney general and McHenry County Auditor Shannon Teresi’s campaign for comptroller.  

    Griffin is known as Illinois’ most politically active conservative billionaire and has a history of donating to Republican candidates and causes. In total, he has given out $140.6 million to candidates.   

    In 2020, Griffin furnished most of the money behind efforts to defeat Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax amendment question on the ballot in 2020 after putting up $53.75 million against it. He also donated $22.5 million to former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign in 2018.   

    Campaign records show Griffin regularly supports Republicans in the state legislature with donations. He has also contributed to the group Citizens for Judicial Fairness, Erika Harold’s campaign for attorney general and Bill Daley’s campaign for mayor of Chicago.   

    Dick and Elizabeth Uihlein – owners of Uline  

    The Uihleins, who live in Lake Forest but run their company in Pleasant Prairie, Wisc., are heavily involved in Illinois politics. They are not included on Forbes’ billionaire list, but the news organization estimates their company’s value could be as much as $2 billion. Last week they contributed $1 million to Sen. Darren Bailey’s (R-Xenia) campaign for governor.   

    The pair has contributed $14.6 million to Illinois political causes since 2018, according to state records. Their money has gone to many Republican members of the General Assembly and the Liberty Principles PAC.   

    The Uihleins are also major conservative donors on the national stage. Forbes reports the couple contributes to far-right political organizations and donated millions to former President Donald Trump. The couple is also heavily involved in Republican politics in Wisconsin.   

    JB Pritzker – governor  

    It’s no secret Illinois’ Democratic governor spends most of his political money on his own campaign. Pritzker most recently dumped $90 million into his campaign account for 2022 last month. The contribution brought Pritzker’s total personal spending on his campaign to $303.9 million.   

    Related: Irvin faces uphill battle against crowded GOP field, Pritzker money juggernaut  

    Pritzker also put up most of the money behind the 2020 campaign in favor of the graduated income tax amendment. The “Fair Tax” amendment, which was defeated by voters in 2020, was a major political initiative of Pritzker’s first term. The campaign personally cost him $58 million.   

    Thomas Pritzker – CEO of Pritzker organization; Hyatt Hotel chairman  

    A cousin to JB Pritzker, Thomas Pritzker is the wealthiest person in the family, according to Forbes. But while his cousin is heavily invested in politics as governor, Thomas Pritzker has spent far less on politics. He’s given $139,250 to Illinois candidates and his most recent donation was $2,500 to Secretary of State Jesse White in 2017.   

    Penny Pritzker – Microsoft board member, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce  

    Penny Pritzker is JB Pritzker’s sister but has contributed little to Illinois political campaigns despite her brother’s involvement and experience in the Obama administration. She has contributed $188,718 to Illinois politicians and her most recent contributions was $19,345 to Jesse Ruiz’s 2018 campaign for attorney general.   

    Jennifer Pritzker – founder of Pritzker Military Museum and TAWANI Enterprise  

    Despite being JB Pritzker’s cousin, Jennifer Pritzker has put her money mostly behind Republicans. She has contributed $1.1 million to Illinois politicians, including Harold and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. However, $800,000 of her $1.1 million of contributions in Illinois were against her cousin and his push for the graduated income tax amendment.   

    Jennifer Pritzker also gave $250,000 to Trump, but in 2020 she contributed $2 million to President Joe Biden  

    Jerry Reinsdorf – owner of Chicago Bulls and White Sox  

    The Chicago sports executive has given $204,250 to Illinois campaigns. In the current election cycle, he has contributed to both Alexi Giannoulias’ and Anna Valencia’s campaigns for secretary of state. He has also contributed to Pritzker and Emanuel in previous years.   

    Neil Bluhm – real estate  

    While coming in as Illinois’ second-richest man, Bluhm has financially participated in Illinois politics on a smaller scale. Within the last four years, he has given donations of $100,000 or fewer to candidates of both parties, including House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, a Democrat.    

    The donations have added up to $834,700.  

    Sam Zell – owner, Equity Group Investments  

    Zell’s most recent political contribute was $100,000 for Irvin’s campaign. In total, the real estate investor and former newspaper owner has donated $5.1 million to political campaigns. Recent contributions also include $75,000 for Lightfoot and $150,000 for former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel  

    Joe Mansueto – founder of Morningstar; owner of Chicago Fire   

    Mansueto has given about $1.5 million to Illinois politicians. His most recent contributions of $56,000 have gone to Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi. He has also contributed $200,000 to Rauner and $150,000 Emanuel.   

    Mark Walter – Los Angeles Dodgers owner  

    In addition to working as a baseball executive, Walter is also CEO of Chicago-based Guggenheim Partners. Walter has shown little financial interest in Illinois politics, however. His only contribution was $5,300 to Emanuel in 2014.   

    Eric Lefkofsky – co-founder of Groupon  

    Lefkofsky has given Illinois politicians $1.1 million to Illinois politicians but has not contributed since giving $3,100 to former Attorney General Lisa Madigan in 2017. Lefkofsky has also contributed to Rauner and Emanuel.   

    Pat Ryan – founder of Aon  

    Ryan was also a contributor to campaigns against the 2020 graduated income tax amendment. He put $1 million toward defeating the measure. Ryan has also $125,000 to Harold.   

    Justin Ishbia – Shore Capital Partners   

    Ishbia has not financially contributed to Illinois political matters since giving $1,000 to an independent maps campaign in 2014. He’s given $5,000 to Illinois political causes in total.   

    Steve Sarowitz – founder of Paylocity   

    Sarowitz gave $875 to Arie Friedman’s 2012 senate campaign in a north suburban district.   

    Joseph Grendy – owner of Koch Foods  

    Grendy has contributed to $201,500 to Illinois campaigns. His most recent contribution of $200,000 went to Paul Vallas’ 2019 campaign for Chicago mayor.   

    Michael Polsky – energy executive  

    Polsky has given $156,000 to a wide variety of candidates, including Democrats Pat Quinn, Kwame Raoul, and Bill Conway’s campaigns for attorney general. He has also contributed Ald. Michelle Smith (43) and Emanuel.  

    Michael Krasney – founder of CDW 

    Krasney has given $285,750 to Illinois politicians including Kaegi, Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfield) and Pritzker. During the Rauner administration he donated to both Rauner and an independent maps group.  

    Jack Schuler – former CEO of Abbott Labs 

    Schuler has given $27,391 to Illinois politicians. They include donations to former Rep. Scott Drury’s (D-Highwood) campaigns for attorney general and governor in 2018. Schuler also contributed to Rauner in 2018.  

    Carl Thoma – managing partner at Thoma Bravo 

    Thoma has not contributed to an Illinois political campaign since 2009. He has given out $5,500 in total.  

    Some Illinois billionaires have not financially contributed to Illinois campaigns. Hartley Rogers, managing director of Hamilton Lane; Matthew Roszak, chairman of Bloq; and Ty Warner, the founder of Beanie Babies, have not contributed to any campaign or political organization, according to state records.  

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