Pritzker launches self-funded nationwide abortion rights advocacy organization

Pritzker launches self-funded nationwide abortion rights advocacy organization

By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
hmeisel@capitolnewsillinois.com

Gov. JB Pritzker is self-funding the launch of a new political advocacy group aimed at fighting for abortion rights across the U.S. – an extension of sizable donations he’s been making in Democratic politics for several years.

The billionaire governor, whose rising national profile had garnered feverish speculation about a run for president in 2024, launched Think Big America on Wednesday. TBA is a nonprofit issue advocacy group similar to one he set up four years ago to push for a graduated income tax in Illinois, which ultimately fell short at the ballot box.

In a video announcement published Wednesday, Pritzker said he believed a “far-right agenda” has already taken hold in many places in the U.S.

“The end of reproductive rights. Widespread book bans. A rollback of voting rights and civil rights. The erosion of trust in our institutions,” the governor counted off against a background of tense music. “That will be our permanent reality if we don’t act now.”

Nonprofits like the 501(c)4-classified Think Big America are often referred to as “dark money” groups, as they’re not required to disclose their donors. But a spokesperson for the group said as there are currently no donors to the nonprofit aside from Pritzker, there’s no secret about where the money’s coming from.

“And when the time comes – or if the time comes that we should solicit donations from others, we’ll sort of cross that bridge when we come to it,” the spokesperson said of future transparency in funding the group.

Pritzker’s camp declined to disclose how much he put into the group to get it off the ground, but it said the organization has enough seed money to fulfill current commitments, including helping with abortion rights ballot measures in Ohio and Nevada.

Reproductive rights organizations in Ohio have already received a boost from Pritzker and his campaign staffers who will now officially be part-time staffers at Think Big America. Ahead of Ohio’s August primary election, Pritzker contributed $250,000 to Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, which was fighting a constitutional amendment that would’ve made it more difficult to amend the state’s constitution. His donation was the second-largest to the group.

Republicans in Ohio had proposed the ballot measure to put barriers in place ahead of another planned referendum that will be decided by voters in November: whether to enshrine abortion rights into Ohio’s state constitution.

In addition to the governor’s money, leading staffers from Pritzker’s 2022 campaign also helped in this summer’s efforts in Ohio, providing strategic support like poll and messaging development. Pritzker campaign manager Mike Ollen was also in Ohio for Election Day this summer and will continue to be active in the issue as part of Think Big America.

Pritzker staffers have already provided similar strategic support in the nascent stages of abortion rights ballot measures in Nevada and Arizona. It’s often difficult for issue campaigns to attract staffers when statewide and national candidates are competing for the same pool of people. To bridge that resource gap, the group’s spokesperson said TBA would help organizers who “know best in their home states.”

Think Big America’s board of directors includes three Pritzker allies: State Rep. Margaret Croke, D-Chicago, who worked in the governor’s administration before running for office in 2020; Chicago Ald. Michelle Harris, whom Pritzker unsuccessfully backed for head of the state Democratic Party after longtime chair Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan resigned in 2021; and Desirée Rogers, a former Obama White House staffer who also chaired Chicago tourism board Choose Chicago.

The governor, who made abortion rights a centerpiece of his re-election campaign last year, touts Illinois as a haven for abortion-seekers coming from states whose Republican-led governments have clamped down on abortion access since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer.

Pritzker also contributed $201,000 to last year’s effort to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment that would’ve severely restricted abortion access in Kansas. Earlier this year he spent more than $1 million on Wisconsin Democrats’ successful efforts to flip that state’s supreme court – a race where abortion access played an outsized role.

While the group will be exclusively focused on assisting with abortion rights ballot measures for now, Pritzker and the staffers are eyeing involvement in future fights over LGBTQ+ issues, including gender-affirming care, and book bans.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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