Young Republican enters Illinois governor race with huge campaign war chest

Jesse Sullivan is challenging Gov. J.B. Pritzker, vowing a campaign focused on ending crime, corruption and lowering taxes.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker
Joshua Lott/Getty Images

A new Republican candidate for Illinois governor is entering the race with a nearly $11 million campaign fund.

Jesse Sullivan is from the central Illinois village of Petersburg. After high school, his campaign says he attended several universities, including Oxford. He then served as a civilian with the Department of Defense in Afghanistan. Among other achievements, he started a venture capital firm in California. His campaign is focused on ending crime, corruption and lowering taxes.

“I got to work with these incredible entrepreneurs around the world, creating the future of finance and technology, cryptocurrency, blockchain technology, the future of the internet,” Sullivan, 37, said to a crowd of supporters at Lincoln’s historic New Salem outside of Petersburg. “Chicago should be the crypto capital of the world.”

He said Illinois is losing population, is known for crime and corruption and high taxes. He said to reverse that, he’ll work for strong ethics reforms, strive for making state government more efficient and lowering taxes to attract businesses back to Illinois.

He told a crowd he's guided by faith, service, and family.

“Family is the most sacred unit in our society,” Sullivan said. “And I really do think that if we could just elevate the role of fatherhood and motherhood again, then that would solve so many problems that we have in our society.”

The Republican is married with several young children and two foster children. He and his wife are expecting another child.

Sullivan didn’t mention COVID-19 during his speech. Afterward, he told members of the media he would not make unilateral decisions on the pandemic as incumbent Gov. J.B. Pritzker has.

“I’m someone who is a decentralized person who allows local leaders...why elect local school boards if you’re going to take away any authority to make decisions locally,” Sullivan said.

The political newcomer enters the race with nearly $11 million in campaign funds, dwarfing funds from other Republicans in the field.

At the most recent quarter ending June 30, state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, had $490,700 on hand. Businessman Gary Rabine had $287,325 on hand. Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf had $116,280 on hand.

But, Sullivan’s $10.8 million is a fraction of the $32 million Pritzker, a billionaire, has on hand.

The Democratic Party of Illinois criticized Sullivan's money being from six out-of-state donors.

“Jesse Sullivan’s largest contribution – $5 million – comes from a Californian named Chris Larsen who is currently being prosecuted by the Securities and Exchange Commission,” the DPI said in a statement.

Sullivan said those donations are from people he’s made relationships with and they trust his leadership.

“I’m someone who was able to bring resources in from out of state,” Sullivan said. “I’m going to help bring companies in. We’re going to create the jobs of the future here in Illinois.”

Sullivan faces the three other Republicans heading into the June 2022 primary.