The announcement Thursday morning by billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin that he plans to move Citadel’s headquarters from Chicago comes at an intriguing time politically for the billionaire hedge fund manager.
Illinois Republican voters are poised to potentially reject on Tuesday some or all members of a slate of GOP candidates for statewide office that Griffin funded with $50 million and that is headed by Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s bid for the Republican nomination for governor.
Considering the timing and political optics, it points to a potentially early concession speech. Irvin is in a hotly contested six-way race for the nomination and facing strong opposition from state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia.
Bailey has been helped, in part, by a slew of TV ads paid for by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Pritzker-backed Democratic Governors Association that label Bailey as “too conservative” for Illinois. It is a backhanded push for conservatives to back Bailey, who Democrats think will be easier to defeat in the fall.
In a statement Thursday morning, Irvin blamed Pritzker for Citadel’s departure and for refusing “to acknowledge what everyone sees, which is that his high-tax, pro-criminal administration is literally driving jobs and businesses out of state.”
“In the last month alone, Illinois lost Boeing, Caterpillar and now Citadel,” Irvin said.
Adding a pitch for his candidacy, Irvin said, “It’s a clear pattern that shows no signs of ending unless we beat Pritzker in November, and I’m the only person in this race with a proven record of success to take Illinois back.”
Pritzker’s efforts to defeat Irvin in the GOP primary symbolize the bitter relationship between the state’s billionaire governor and Griffin. Griffin had frequently cited fears of crime in Chicago as a potential for moving Citadel, blaming Pritzker and his policies but not Mayor Lori Lightfoot, including at an October 2021 event at the Economic Club of Chicago.
In the November 2020 election, Griffin spent $53.75 million to oppose Pritzker’s signature agenda item, a proposed constitutional amendment rejected by voters to change the state from a flat-rate income tax to a graduated-rate levy. Pritzker spent $58 million to encourage its passage.
In the 2018 governor’s race, Griffin gave one-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner $22.5 million in his losing reelection effort against Pritzker, who spent more than $170 million of his own money on his campaign. Griffin gave Rauner $13.5 million for Rauner’s winning 2014 effort.
Also in 2020, Griffin pumped $4.5 million into a group that opposed the retention of Democratic Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride. Kilbride went on to become the first court justice to lose a retention vote. This time around, with elections outside of Cook County for a redistricted Supreme Court, Griffin has given the group more than $6.25 million.
All told, Illinois State Board of Elections records show, Griffin has contributed $179 million to state and local candidates, mainly Republicans, and organizations. But Griffin also was a financial supporter of Chicago Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel.
In May, Griffin announced he was donating $25 million to launch two academies based at the University of Chicago to provide advanced police training to law enforcement leaders and violence interruption organizations.
Griffin also has given roughly $40 million to various outside groups seeking to influence the outcome of congressional races across the country who are running in the midterm elections. That has made him one of the top individual donors in the nation involved in reshaping Congress this cycle.
Griffin is also the top individual donor to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, giving him $5 million.
If he decides to devote his resources to Florida, Griffin’s departure could mean an even more depleted fundraising future for Illinois Republicans who had counted on his wealth to help in part make up for Pritzker’s lavish spending on Democrats.