J.B. Pritzker shatters record — pumped most wealth into any race in U.S. history

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J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic nominee for Illinois governor. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

It’s now official.

Democrat J.B. Pritzker has pumped more of his own money into a campaign than any other self-financing candidate  in U.S. history.

The Gold Coast billionaire’s $146.5 million has bought him a place in the record books, breezing past Republican Meg Whitman, who set the previous record in 2010, when the former eBay honcho churned $144 million of her own fortune into her losing battle against Democrat Jerry Brown.

The combined $234 million that Pritzker and Gov. Bruce Rauner have raised in their bitter battle falls short of the combined $280 million that Brown and Whitman ultimately spent.

But with three weeks left, the meter is still running. And expensive television ads remain the top expenditure fueling spending in this year’s gubernatorial contest.

Whitman put in $144,155,806.10 into her 2010 gubernatorial campaign in 16 contributions, according to campaign finance reports filed in California. Among those were four $20 million contributions.

Whitman broke “the record for most money ever spent by one political candidate on a single election in American history,” the Los Angeles Times has reported.

“Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman broke every campaign spending record in the land on her failed bid to become governor of California,” Forbes wrote in 2011.

With wealth estimated at $3.2 billion by Forbes, Pritzker has a greater nest egg than Whitman’s estimated $1.2 billion. Rauner’s net worth is unknown, although he didn’t make Forbes’ list, meaning his net worth is estimated at somewhere below $2.1 billion, the minimum to crack the Forbes “exclusive club” of the 400 richest Americans.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker met in a debate Tuesday at the Sun-Times. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker met in a debate Tuesday at the Sun-Times. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Pritzker has not yet spent all of the money he has contributed to his campaign. He had $12.5 million left in his campaign fund as of Sept. 30, according to his most recent campaign finance report. But typically candidates spend the heaviest in the home stretch.

A day after winning the March primary, Pritzker told the Sun-Times he wouldn’t commit to a spending cap in his push to unseat Rauner. At that point, he had already pitched in nearly $70 million of his own money during the primary.

“Sen. Paul Simon once said that even while you’re fighting for campaign finance reform, you can’t unilaterally disarm,” Pritzker said in March. “And so I believe we’ve got to make sure that we’re competitive in this 2018 election so that we can remove Bruce Rauner from the governorship and then get real campaign finance reform and make real changes to the government.”


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The $20 million that Pritzker pumped into his campaign on Sept. 25 put his self-financing total at $146,500,034.95, eclipsing Whitman’s previous record.

For comparison, Donald Trump spent $66.1 million of his own money on his 2016 president campaign. Then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $109 million of his own money on his re-election campaign in 2009.

For his part, Rauner has accused Pritzker of “trying to buy political office,” despite the fact that the Republican governor is also a self-funder and has doled out a total $95 million to his campaigns since 2013, $67.7 million of that since he was first elected in November of 2014.

Rauner broke a record when he contributed $50 million in December 2016. That was the largest single individual contribution to an Illinois campaign.

But the Republican has tried to shift the focus to Pritzker’s inherited wealth.

“He’s trying to buy the governorship to be something for the first time of his life because if he wasn’t a trust fund baby he would be nothing,” Rauner said during a debate two weeks ago.

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