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Battling Billionaires: Gov. JB Pritzker, Businessman Ken Griffin Donate Millions On Opposing Sides Of Graduated Income Tax Plan Campaign

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A multimillion dollar donation from businessman Ken Griffin against the graduated income tax proposal in Illinois is still peanuts compared to the millions Gov. JB Pritzker has thrown at getting the tax, an issue he ran on, passed.

One lawmaker told CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov it is game on.

There are already ads for the so-called fair tax and against what opposition calls the proposed tax hike. Both are referring to the same issue: a graduated income tax amendment on November's ballot that would eliminate the state's current flat 4.95% income tax rate and implement different rates for different income levels. In a nutshell those who make more than $250,000 will pay more.

If the money behind the issue is any indication, the political stakes are high.

"Every time I think I'm getting used to the level of money in Illinois politics something like this happens that just floors me," said Alisa Kaplan with the non-partisan Reform for Illinois, referring to Griffin's $20 million donation last week to the committee opposing the graduated tax.

It comes about a month after Pritzker threw another $51.5 million of his own money at the committee to pass the graduated tax.

"In addition to the question of just whether all this money could go towards more worthy causes, there is the issue of what kind of society and democracy do we have where an extremely small number of extremely wealthy men are essentially dictating the discussion about policies that will ultimately have a really significant impact on the lives of everyday Illinoisans," Kaplan said.

That money goes to messaging -- television and radio ads, flyers, committee staffers. It's nothing new, but Kaplan believes this could become the most expensive issue in Illinois history because there are no limits on these types of contributions, which could create voter backlash.

"It gives them an impression about politics that can lead them to become disengaged or frustrated," she said.

That and voter apathy are already concerns in the state and country. Just look at voter turnout. Add the COVID-19 pandemic into the mix, and there is no telling how this issue will play out in November. It makes messaging arguably even more important, like a vicious cycle.

On the pro graduated tax side, Pritzker is basically the only contributor, but there are several prominent and wealthy people in addition to Griffin donating against the issue with much smaller donations of $25,000 to $100,000.

Kaplan points out they would be the ones to pay much more, sometimes millions more in taxes, if this passes.

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