Billionaire Ken Griffin put $50 million of his own money behind Republican candidate for governor Richard Irvin. The Aurora mayor was originally the frontrunner, but in the end, lost to conservative state Sen. Darren Bailey, who received Donald Trump’s endorsement Saturday.
In what’s been called “the battle of the billionaires,” some of the country’s wealthiest men sought to influence the race for Illinois governor. That includes the current Gov. J. B. Pritzker, whose campaign is largely self-funded by the billionaire.
The nonprofit Common Cause Illinois has long been fighting for campaign finance reform.
“The most significant money in politics story in Illinois heading into November will likely be the money spent on the Governor’s race,” said Executive Director Jay Young. “Four years ago, Illinois broke records with the amount of money spent on the gubernatorial election. Assuming you can believe the reported polling, Ken Griffin’s preferred candidate’s campaign may be coming to an end and Griffin has said he’s leaving the state. Maybe we won’t break another campaign spending record, but I don’t think this means that money doesn’t matter in Illinois, it’s just that Trump’s support matters more in today’s politics.”
Alisa Kaplan, executive director of Reform for Illinois, a nonpartisan organization working on the role of money in politics, was hesitant to say whether Griffin’s play backfired, “There are so many factors coming into play, it’s hard to say,” says Kaplan. “Could be that people looked at Griffin’s millions and thought they don’t want his handpicked candidate. Or it could be that Irvin was the wrong candidate for the time, and no amount of money can fix that.”
Kaplan sees money’s influence as a systemwide problem in politics. “And let’s not forget that Darren Bailey has his own billionaire benefactor in Richard Uihlein,” says Kaplan. “Plus, he has Governor Pritzker and the Democratic Governors’ Association spending millions on beating his rival, Richard Irvin. What does that do to people watching these commercials? How are you supposed to know who’s trying to influence you?”
Young agreed that the influence of money in politics isn’t partisan.“This is a huge problem on both sides of the aisle and will continue to lead to further polarization as we move forward. This money creates a huge amount of cynicism that our elected officials are beholden to someone other than their constituents and that people’s voices don’t matter.”