Griffin’s move to Florida only latest blow to local philanthropy

Ken Griffin, founder of Citadel

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

The spotlight has long been on Ken Griffin’s political donations, the controversies they generate, and his recent clashes with Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

But the impact of his departure on the world of philanthropy and charitable giving cannot be overstated.

That’s in no small part because it’s the latest and largest of several recent departures by wealthy Chicagoans with a history of giving the most.

That includes the Reyes family of Reyes Holdings, former Gov. Bruce Rauner, former Commonwealth Edison CEO John Rowe and former Morgan Stanley executive Bill Strong. Like Griffin, all three of those families picked up stakes and moved to Florida.

“Many of the major funders — like Ken Griffin, like so many others, the Reyes family … who are huge donors — are checking out. … And they’re in Florida. When they leave, their charitable dollars leave,” said a source close to the world of philanthropic and charitable giving in Chicago and Illinois.

“And so, when you look at institutions like the Art Institute … Golden Apple Foundation. Pick any of them. They’re all hurt by the impact of the charitable dollars leaving. It’s not just the jobs that are lost. It’s not just the taxes that are lost. It’s not just the political dollars that are lost. These are gonna hurt the front-line charities that are doing so much to help people. Who’s left? It’s heartbreaking. This whole thing is heartbreaking.”

Griffin’s departure is merely the “symptom of a larger problem,” the source said.

“If you look at the number of philanthropic donors who have left the state of Illinois and choose not to give to charitable organizations in the state of Illinois because they have to prove residency, it is a long and distinguished list. To quote Queen, ‘Another one bites the dust,’” the source said.

In fact, the source knew of at least 15 big-money donors who have left Illinois for Florida.

And those are just individuals. It also leaves a huge gap in donations when companies, such as Boeing, move their headquarters out of town.

People should be less concerned about how Griffin “spent his political dollars” and more concerned about the impact his departure will have on Chicago and Illinois charities, the source said.

“You think the 606 [trail] would have been built without Ken? Do you think the Field Museum would have gotten a new dinosaur or what he did for the [Museum of Science and Industry] or the University of Chicago?” the source said.

“Pick a million other things that he invested in. You think any of those things are gonna happen again? That he’ll want to do that? Probably not.”

In all, according to Citadel, Griffin has donated more than $600 million to educational, cultural, medical and civic organizations over the past 30 years.

Some of his donations:

May 2022 — $25 million to launch two academies at the University of Chicago that will provide six months of training to police leaders here and across the country and to people who run violence interruption groups.

June 2020 — Griffin donates $7.5 million to fund the first half of a four-year program providing free high-speed internet access to about 100,000 Chicago Public Schools students.

March 2020 — Griffin and partners in his financial companies donated $1 million to the Chicago Public Schools and $1.5 million to the Chicagoland Food Pantry to deliver breakfast and lunch to city kids at home while their schools are closed due to the pandemic.

October 2019 — The Museum of Science and Industry will now be called the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry after a donation of $125 million from the Chicago billionaire. It’s the largest single gift in the history of the museum, which opened in 1933.

April 2018 — A $10 million grant from Griffin underwrote the collaboration of the Chicago Police Department and the University of Chicago Crime Lab through 2019, with some of the money to go to an “innovation fund.” The money also helped improve services for officers, including training, stress management and mental health treatment.

December 2017 — The Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund donated $3 million to pave the way for construction of 50 miniature soccer fields across the city over the next five years. The announcement was at Gage Park as part of a nationwide campaign by the U.S. Soccer Foundation known as, “It’s Everyone’s Game.”

December 2016 — Griffin donates $12 million to complete a project that separates runners from cyclists along the entire 18-mile length of the lakefront trail.

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