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With his own money and campaign staffers, Pritkzer launches national bid to protect abortion rights

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker speaks to a crowd of people at a pro-abortion rights rally in downtown Chicago.
Paul Beaty
AP Photo
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a Pro-Choice rally at Federal Plaza, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Chicago, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has created Think Big America, a tax-exempt nonprofit that will spend money and resources to protect and expand abortion rights throughout the country.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is dipping into his deep pockets and political resources to create an organization to combat anti-abortion efforts across the country.

With Illinois already viewed as a safe haven for those seeking abortions, Pritzker has launched Think Big America, a tax-exempt issue advocacy nonprofit organization aimed at protecting and expanding abortion rights in other states.

“I want to be involved in the ‘23-’24 election cycle in making sure that this issue is at the forefront, and making sure that we win everywhere we can,” Pritzker told the Sun-Times. “This, I think, is a natural evolution for me.”

The governor in 2019 launched a similar dark money group called Think Big Illinois, which was created to further his agenda, including his unsuccessful bid to enact a progressive income tax in the state.

This time around, Pritzker is contributing dollars to initially seed the group, although he declined to specify the amount. Other donations will ultimately be accepted for the organization categorized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c(4). The group won’t be required to disclose its donors.

The Democratic governor already sent some of his political staff, including his campaign manager, to Ohio this year to help Democrats defeat Issue 1, which would have made it harder to protect abortion rights in the state. That ballot initiative would have required a supermajority vote to change Ohio’s state constitution, making it harder for an abortion rights referendum to win approval.

Pritzker in June contributed $250,000 to the Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom PAC to defeat the measure, marking the second-largest contribution by an individual to the group. Through Think Big America, he will again contribute to support Ohio’s November ballot initiative to codify abortion rights, as well as Nevada’s efforts to secure a ballot question about protecting abortion rights in the state’s constitution.

Pritzker also contributed $201,000 to two groups in support of Kansas’ abortion amendment last year; and sent $1 million to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and $20,000 directly to Janet for Justice to support Janet Protasiewicz, the Milwaukee County judge who won her Wisconsin Supreme Court justice seat and flipped control of the court to give liberals a 4-3 majority.

The governor said the group’s efforts will vary state by state, but could include petition gathering and providing strategy and dollars for ads and polls. Pritzker’s political staffers, now in the off-season, will be splitting their time between the two organizations.

“Obviously the folks in Ohio know best how to get votes out to support that referendum,” Pritzker said. “We’re supporting them in that endeavor, whether it’s working with them on GOTV [get-out-the-vote] where they say we ought to do it, or sometimes it’s helping pay for a poll to determine if one message or another message is better. Or sometimes it’s helping them pay for an ad, whether it’s on a billboard or on TV.”

The group’s board of directors are Desirée Rogers, former White House social secretary and chief executive and co-owner of Fashion Fair and Black Opal; Illinois state Rep. Margaret Croke, D-Chicago; and 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris. Croke said the three will oversee the races and ballot initiatives in which the group will invest.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Pritzker and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly have further expanded abortion rights in Illinois — and the state has seen a massive increase in patients seeking reproductive care.

“We just happen to be a state that’s surrounded by jurisdictions that aren’t thinking in the same way that J.B. is thinking, and him taking the lead in this state early on, and then also this next initiative, is what we need in a leader, quite frankly,” Rogers said.

“And I think that not everybody believes this should be the case, but he’s kind of standing behind his beliefs in a very significant way, and I believe this is really going to make a difference,” she said. “And most importantly — a difference for women that unfortunately are being blocked off from being able to choose what they want to do.”

Think Big America said it will also combat “far extremism in all its forms,” although abortion rights remains its top priority. Pritzker has used the slogan “Think Big,” which he has admitted is a pun on his size, since his first gubernatorial campaign ad in 2018.

The creation of the group — and the split of political resources — further signals Pritzker is not mulling a presidential run next year, despite plenty of speculation. But it also raises his national profile and could set him up for a 2028 run. Pritzker’s staffers likened the group to Tom Steyer’s nonprofit NextGen America, which he created in 2013 and which helped lead up to Steyer’s presidential run in 2019.

“I’ve always said that I love being the governor of Illinois,” Pritzker said. “I know you’ve heard me say this before, but I don’t know what you thought was happening in 2023 and 2024. But for me, I was always about reelecting Joe Biden and reelecting Kamala Harris.”

Tina Sfondeles is the chief political reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times