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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

Dark Money Group "Think Big Illinois" Launched By Pritzker Ally

via Think Big Illinois Facebook page

A new lobbying group says it plans to promote Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s agenda using secret money. It’s being run by a close Pritzker ally.

Listen to a summary of the story.

The ally is Quentin Fulks, one of Pritzker’s top campaign staffers. The group is called Think Big Illinois, based on one of Pritzker's campaign slogans: “Think Big.” It's organized as a type of non profit group called a 501(c)(4).

That kind of organization is meant to “promote social welfare” according to the Internal Revenue Service. But they’re controversial, because they can keep the names of their donors a secret.

501(c)(4)s are somewhat common in politics. Several well-known ones include the National Rifle Association on the right, and the American Civil Liberties Union on the left. In Illinois, Republican state Rep. Steven Reick of Woodstock recently announced he wants to use that tax status to create a group that would examine how state agencies spend taxpayer money.

Fulks describes Think Big Illinois as an issue-advocacy group, but organizations like it have another common nickname: dark money groups.

“I really can’t dispel that nickname because that is the law; 501(c)(4)s don’t have to disclose donors," Fulks said of the group. "I think that it’s more important [to focus on] what the money is being spent on.”

Fulks says his group will be lobbying for things like a progressive income tax, which was one of Pritzker’s main campaign promises and one he's expected to propose soon. The group could help fund an information campaign if that proposal makes it onto the 2020 ballot.

Though inherently political, Fulks says Think Big Illinois is not allowed to be involved in elections. He says the group also won't take money from donors that “don’t hold progressive values."

“I don’t want to be the impetus that comes across with this organization, that it’s trying to play with elections or do things like that. I want it to be totally focused on the issues that are going on here in Illinois, and how we address and fix those issues.”

Fulks says Think Big Illinois has been supporting the push to raise Illinois’ minimum wage.

Copyright 2019 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.