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Billionaire Ken Griffin, in battle with Gov. J.B. Pritzker over graduated-rate income tax amendment, ups his stake to $53.75 million to oppose it

Ken Griffin, the founder and CEO of Citadel, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014.

Ken Griffin, the founder and CEO of Citadel, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

Ken Griffin, in a billionaire battle with Gov. J.B. Pritzker over the governor’s effort to switch Illinois to a graduated-rate income tax system, pumped another $7 million of his wealth to oppose it, state campaign finance reports showed Friday.

Griffin, the founder and CEO of Citadel, a Chicago-based hedge fund and investment firm, has now given $53.75 million to the Coalition to Stop the Proposed Tax Hike group, which is opposed to Pritzker’s signature agenda item — a proposed state constitutional amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot to move Illinois from a flat-rate income tax to a graduated-rate income tax that increases the levy along with income.

Griffin and Pritzker are the main funders for the anti- and pro-amendment forces, using their wealth to help drive a flurry of expensive TV advertising.

Griffin, regarded as Illinois' wealthiest person, is worth $15 billion, according to Forbes. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, is worth $3.4 billion according to Forbes. Pritzker has put $56.5 billion into the Vote Yes for Fairness group backing the proposed amendment.

Griffin’s donation, which the group received Wednesday but wasn’t reported until Friday, came as he launched a personal attack on Pritzker and Democrats. He called Pritzker “a shameless master of personal tax avoidance” in an email to his Chicago employees on Thursday.

Pritzker and supporters of the amendment contended Griffin was attempting payback for the defeat of one-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Griffin gave $20 million to Rauner’s failed bid for reelection at the hands of Pritzker in 2018.

Voters will decide the fate of the proposed constitutional amendment. Supporters contend that a graduated-rate scale approved if the amendment is ratified will result in 97% of Illinoisans, those making $250,000 or less, paying at least the same if not less in income taxes.

Opponents contend the shift will make it easier for lawmakers to cherry pick higher income groups for future tax hikes, jeopardizing business and job creation.

Quentin Fulks, who chairs the Pritzker-funded Vote Yes for Fairness group, contended Griffin has now paid $8 million more to fund the opposition than the $45 million more in taxes he would have paid last year if the amendment was adopted by voters.

“It’s clear that Griffin and other wealthy Illinoisans are getting increasingly desperate that the days of paying the same tax rate as a nurse or a grocery store clerk are numbered, but no amount of money can hide the fact that Griffin is spending millions to deny 97% of Illinoisans a tax cut,” Fulks said.

The anti-amendment Coalition to Stop the Proposed Tax Hike group now has raised nearly $58.2 million, with Griffin the major donor. The group also reported receiving an additional $1 million from a trust formed by real estate tycoon Sam Zell, bringing his total to the group to $1.1 million.

Zell is a real estate magnate and chairman of Equity Group Investments. Like Griffin, he was a major ally of Rauner.

Zell led a heavily leveraged buyout of then-Chicago Tribune parent company Tribune Co. in 2007. Tribune Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2008.

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