Republican gubernatorial candidate Jesse Sullivan pushed back Monday at characterizations of him as a West Coast venture capitalist — insisting that both he and the business he founded are based in the small central Illinois town of Petersburg.
While voting records do show Sullivan has lived — and voted in — downstate Menard County for at least the last five years, the main location of his business is murkier.
Social media accounts and the company’s own website list Alter Global as being headquartered in San Francisco or the Silicon Valley.
But Sullivan and a spokesman for his campaign said that is primarily for “marketing [and] branding purposes.”
Documents released by Sullivan’s campaign on Monday included a birth certificate, showing he was born in a Springfield hospital in 1984, as well as proof of his homeownership and taxes paid on the Petersburg home from 2016 to 2020.
A review of Sullivan’s voting history shows he voted in the central Illinois town of about 2,200 in the last three November elections – 2020, 2018 and 2016. He also voted in last year’s Republican primary, according to records from the Menard County Clerk and Recorder.
Earlier, he also voted in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 general elections and the 2003 consolidated election in the downstate city.
Sullivan’s entry into the Republican race for governor last week one day after reporting more than $10 million in campaign contributions from seven California, Texas and Colorado donors drew immediate criticism from his GOP rivals, who dismissed him as an out-of-towner supported by the “big checkbooks” of the “Silicon Valley elites.”
On Monday, Sullivan sought to clear up questions about his own and his company’s roots.
He founded two entities with the name Alter Global, according to his campaign, a non-profit and a limited liability company.
One document filed with the California Secretary of State’s Office shows the non-profit was incorporated in California in 2015. A campaign spokesman said Sullivan founded Alter Global, the non-profit, in 2015 after graduating from Stanford Business School. He registered that entity in Illinois in 2017.
The Illinois document shows the downstate native has a principal office in Petersburg, which is also listed as the non-profit’s principal office in the state. The non-profit’s secretary and director both list California addresses on that document.
The campaign also provided documents on the formation of the company, Alter Global LLC — one from Delaware and one in Illinois. Both are from December 2020.
A spokesman for Sullivan’s campaign said he established that entity to “invest seed money into early-stage start-ups in the developing world” in order to “attract additional capital in support of the mission of poverty alleviation.”
Many of the social media profiles for Sullivan’s company list San Francisco as its primary location.
Over the past few days, the company’s website has gone through multiple changes, from listing San Francisco as its main base to recently being updated to designate Petersburg as its primary location. By Monday afternoon, it was not showing any city at all.
But sections of the firm’s website still listed it as “based in Silicon Valley” on Monday afternoon.
Public records show that along with a Petersburg, Ill., address, the company is connected to at least one Californian location. Crunchbase, which has a searchable database of companies, lists the headquarters in San Francisco.
In a brief call with a Chicago Sun-Times reporter Monday, Sullivan said the company’s main office is his home in Illinois.
He said where the “confusion comes in is we have a distributed team,” meaning the company’s employees, who are “spread all around” including in India and the East and West Coasts.
Sullivan said one of the Californian addresses is where he lived after finishing his studies at Stanford Business School. That address is also listed on the document registering Alter Global with California.
Asked to explain the updates to the company’s website, Sullivan again pointed to the firm’s team, which includes one person working out of the Bay Area.
“I didn’t think that would ever be a question or a hit because I have the documents to show that we’re just registered here in Illinois and not registered in California,” Sullivan said, adding that including the West Coast city on the site was more “for marketing [and] branding purposes for our entrepreneurs” who might go to the website.
Sullivan’s spokesman said in a statement the Petersburg native has “always maintained deep connection to Illinois” regardless of where he’s traveled, and “Petersburg has always been his home. Jesse has filed his income taxes to the IRS and to the Illinois Department of Revenue since 2016.”
The spokesman didn’t directly address a question about whether or not Sullivan, and Alter Global, are misleading the public by claiming to be based in Silicon Valley or San Francisco if that is not the case, but he said Alter built up its distributed workforce before the pandemic, including employees in San Francisco.
“As Governor, Jesse Sullivan will work to make Illinois an equally sought-after hub of business expertise,” the spokesman said.
Over the weekend, Sullivan’s campaign released a video seeking to clarify where the Republican gubernatorial candidate is from.
In the 45-second clip, Sullivan explains six years ago he launched an organization out of Stanford Business School “to help back the best entrepreneurs around the world creating jobs” and he’s been running that organization from Illinois for the last five years.
Against the backdrop of soybeans, someone raises up two of Sullivan’s children who he says are “homegrown in Illinois — just like me.” And the gubernatorial candidate points to his pregnant wife’s belly saying another is “almost ready for the harvest.”