New state Senate GOP leader welcomes billionaires’ bucks but warns party must ‘diversify our fundraising’

“We have to broaden that appeal because we’re getting heavily outspent in all our races all across the state,” new state Senate Minority Leader John Curran said.

Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin (left) in May; Republican state Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove (center) earlier this year; Lake Forest mega donor Dick Uihlein (right) in 2007.
Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin (left) in May; Republican state Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove (center) earlier this year; Lake Forest mega donor Dick Uihlein (right) in 2007. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images; Senate Republican staff; Sun-Times files
Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin (left) in May; Republican state Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove (center) earlier this year; Lake Forest mega donor Dick Uihlein (right) in 2007.
Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin (left) in May; Republican state Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove (center) earlier this year; Lake Forest mega donor Dick Uihlein (right) in 2007. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images; Senate Republican staff; Sun-Times files

New state Senate GOP leader welcomes billionaires’ bucks but warns party must ‘diversify our fundraising’

“We have to broaden that appeal because we’re getting heavily outspent in all our races all across the state,” new state Senate Minority Leader John Curran said.

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SPRINGFIELD — After a bruising election that relied heavily on billionaire mega donors, newly selected Illinois Senate Minority Leader John Curran on Wednesday said Republicans must find broader financial support for candidates if the party wants to have “a bigger voice” in Springfield.

Curran was unanimously selected Tuesday to lead the Senate Republican caucus, which will have 19 members to the Democrats’ 40 after last week’s elections. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, the Downers Grove Republican said his caucus needs a reset button when it comes to campaign fundraising.

When asked specifically about big GOP backers, Curran did not mention megadonors Dick Uihlein, Ken Griffin or any others by name, telling the Sun-Times, “Well, the solution is a lot of hard work and a lot of conversations.”

“We have to diversify our fundraising bases. Those that have supported us in the past, thank you. And we want to continue to work with you and earn your trust and your support,” Curran said.

“But we have to broaden that appeal because we’re getting heavily outspent in all our races all across the state. It is by multipliers of three and four to one. We need to turn that around because that is a critical issue for Republicans if we’re going to become a bigger voice and a bigger part of the process here in Springfield.”

The state’s Republicans have since 2014 largely been supported by single donors, including former Gov. Bruce Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist who has said his own large contributions were the only way to rebuild the party. And earlier this year, billionaire Citadel CEO Griffin contributed $50 million to Richard Irvin’s primary run for governor, which the Aurora mayor ultimately lost.

Uihlein in September donated $2.1 million to Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie’s campaign committee to try to boost Senate GOP candidates. The Lake Forest billionaire placed most of his campaign focus in Illinois on contributing $42 million to a PAC supporting Republican gubernatorial nominee Darren Bailey.

Despite Democrats picking up every statewide office in last week’s elections — and the Cook County Board likely now counting just one Republican among its 17 members — Curran said he wants to remind Republicans in Chicago and Cook County that they’re not alone.

“There were a lot of Republican candidates in the last election in the city of Chicago. I think that’s step one in the process. Remind the people in Chicago, the Republican party is here and wants to take an active role in representing them,” Curran said.

“Suburban Cook County, when you look at the results there, I see a lot of encouragement and promise in suburban Cook County.”

Curran in 2017 was appointed to replace Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, who left the chamber after retiring from her post as Senate minority leader. Curran previously served as the vice chairman of the DuPage County Board and spent 13 years working as a prosecutor in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

And as negotiations over tinkering with the controversial SAFE-T Act are underway, Curran said he hopes Republicans are brought into the discussions about the criminal justice reform package that was signed into law earlier this year.

“There is no doubt that this has been a very divisive issue, and it’s because of how it was handled and how it was passed and sloppily passed,” Curran said.

“If Democrats want to get this right and want to land this in a balanced approach between civil liberties and the public safety, they’re going to bring Republicans into this process. That is the only way that they’re going to get to a balanced approach between those two tenets.”