Irvin’s doomed campaign for governor spent $417 per vote — worst political investment in Illinois history

As a billionaire hedge fund titan, Ken Griffin has certainly taken some losses while amassing Illinois’ largest fortune, but he’s probably not used to the massive hit he took on election night.

Griffin poured $50 million into Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s campaign, only to see his pick for the Republican nomination for governor finish a distant third Tuesday at a cost of more than $400 per vote — the worst political investment in Illinois history, according to a Sun-Times analysis.

Irvin funneled some of the Citadel founder’s cash to the campaigns of other candidates on their statewide slate — a group recruited by political operatives tied to millionaire ex-Gov. Bruce Rauner — but the bulk of Griffin’s money, nearly $48.7 million, remained stacked behind Irvin.

After about six months of dodging questions about his conservative bonafides, Irvin on Tuesday was outvoted nearly four to one by the far-right winner, state Sen. Darren Bailey of downstate Louisville.


With 99% of precincts reporting by Wednesday afternoon, Irvin’s vote total sat at 116,549, or about $417.61 of Griffin’s cash per ballot.

That’s almost twice as expensive as Illinois’ previous per-vote spending record. Millionaire investor M. Blair Hull squandered $30 million on his third-place finish in the 2004 Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat, or about $223.59 for each of the 134,173 ballots he earned.

Bailey’s own billionaire benefactor saw much better returns on a more modest investment. Lake Forest packaging tycoon Richard Uihlein gave a little more than $9 million directly to Bailey’s campaign, plus almost $8.1 million to a conservative group that aired attack ads against Irvin.

Uihlein’s combined investment of $17.1 million saw 452,649 votes go Bailey’s way, or about $37.82 per ballot.

Of course, Bailey’s win was also subsidized by the Democratic Governors Association, a group backed by sitting billionaire Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The group spent tens of millions on ads intended to prop up Bailey as the true conservative candidate over Irvin, who the association viewed as a more formidable potential opponent in the general election.

The DGA spent $25 million to boost Bailey, according to AdImpact, which tracks political advertising spending. That shakes out to $55.23 Democratic dollars per vote for Bailey.

Griffin got a better bang for his buck with the other statewide candidates on his slate, but two of them were still wiped out by candidates without major bankrollers.

A little over $750,000 of Griffin’s money ended up in secretary of state candidate John Milhiser’s campaign fund. He scrounged up just 167,030 votes, or about $4.50 per ballot, losing in a landslide to state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.

Just over 550,000 Griffin bucks went to attorney general candidate Steve Kim, who got a better value at a cost of roughly $2.27 for each of the 243,158 votes cast for him — but still lost handily to downstate lawyer Tom DeVore.

Griffin also gave $6,000 to Dixon state Rep. Tom Demmer’s treasurer campaign and $56,000 to Shannon Teresi’s comptroller bid, but both were unopposed in Tuesday’s primary.

The hedge funder also lost out on his investment in Illinois’ 15th Congressional District race as right-winger Mary Miller edged out the more moderate Rodney Davis.

Griffin sent $1.5 million to the Illinois Values PAC, which ran ads against Miller. That adds up to about $31.86 for each vote Davis got in his second-place finish.

Uihlein, meanwhile, has given more than $20 million over the past year to the conservative Club For Growth Action group, which spent nearly $2.6 million on the 15th District race against Davis and for Miller, according to OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks political spending. That suggests each vote for Miller’s winning bid cost Uihlein about $40.65.

Campaign spending is expected to balloon over the next two months as Pritzker — who spent about $73 of his own fortune for each vote in his winning 2018 bid — aims for reelection.