Billionaire Ken Griffin donated $20 million to Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s GOP primary campaign for governor of Illinois on Monday, making his support official.
Griffin has said he will spend millions to defeat Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, also a billionaire, but first, Irvin has to win the June Illinois primary. Irvin is one of five Republicans in the race. His challenge is to chart a course to get backing from voters in the Trump wing of the party while remaining centrist enough to compete in the November election against Pritzker if he is the nominee.
In mid-January, Pritzker donated $90 million to his campaign fund, with some of the money already funneled to other Democratic organizations in the state.
Griffin met with Irvin for the first time last week, a Griffin spokesman told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Crime has emerged as a major Irvin issue with Chicago grappling with chronic gun violence. It is the subject of an Irvin campaign ad released on Friday, part of his strategy to portray Pritzker as soft on crime — to appeal to the GOP base vote with a law-and-order theme.
Griffin blamed Pritzker in a statement he released on Monday morning.
“We must end the senseless violence that has engulfed our state and put countless mothers through the pain and agony of losing a child to a random shooting,” he said in the statement.
Pritzker “puts politics first and refuses to address the crime that is tearing apart our state, cities and families. I firmly believe Richard Irvin has the character and leadership needed to again make Illinois a place where people can feel safe to live, raise a family and pursue their dreams.”
The gun violence plaguing Chicago is not the sole responsibility of a governor. The Trump and Biden administrations and Cook County and city officials all have been searching for solutions to gun violence, from attempts to curb the number of illegal guns flowing to the city as well as stepped up prosecutions of gun-related crimes.
A group of political operatives associated with Griffin helped orchestrate Irvin’s candidacy.
Griffin also said in his statement, “Irvin is self-made, and his life story epitomizes the American dream. I have tremendous respect for all that he has accomplished.
“Richard Irvin will bring people together in Illinois and fight to turn our state around. It is time we reclaim our state from the damaging politics of Governor Pritzker and his corrupt cronies.
“Richard knows the importance of ending wasteful spending and reducing oppressively high taxes. Illinois taxpayers are tired of sending their hard-earned money to Springfield to be burned in the furnace of waste and corruption. J.B. Pritzker — beholden to his cronies and political base — is unwilling to address either issue.
“I care deeply about Illinois. I came to Chicago 30 years ago to start my career and my partners and I have built an incredible firm in our state. The policies of J.B. Pritzker are hurting not only our firm, but also countless other Illinois success stories. I am fortunate enough to have the resources to support Richard Irvin in his mission to return Illinois to being the land of opportunity.”
Besides Irvin, the other Republican candidates are state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, who is seen as the leading contender to capture the Trump vote; business executive Gary Rabine of Bull Valley; investor Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg; and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo.
Before Griffin made his contribution to Irvin — which immediately vaulted him well above all his rivals when it comes to campaign cash — the Irvin/Griffin forces wanted to demonstrate first that Irvin had major donors other than Griffin. A who’s who of the Illinois Republican establishment, many of the major donors in state politics, have written substantial checks to the Irvin campaign in the past weeks.
On Feb. 4, business executive Craig Duchossois donated $750,000 to the Irvin campaign, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections, on top of $250,000 he contributed on Jan. 14.
Irvin said in a statement, “I appreciate Mr. Griffin’s support and the thousands of other donors who have joined our campaign in the first few weeks. I look forward to gaining the backing of even more Illinoisans throughout the state who want to be a part of this movement to stop out of control crime, skyrocketing taxes and wasteful spending, heavy handed government and corruption, and I will be a Governor who puts people first and tackles these issues head on.”
Pritzker campaign spokesperson Natalie Edelstein in a statement referred to the Griffin-backed former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, who Pritzker defeated. “Ken Griffin would conveniently like us all to forget he bankrolled the very governor that decimated the social services that prevent violence, caused our colleges and universities to nearly lose accreditation, and devastated our state’s finances in previously unseen ways.
“Moreover, Ken’s chosen candidate is entirely unserious about addressing the issues facing Illinois and spent 15 years profiting off of the defense of violent criminals. The wounds left by Bruce Rauner’s incompetence are still fresh and Illinoisans see Irvin’s candidacy for exactly what it is: another empty suit for Ken Griffin to drag our state backwards.”