Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois is launching a new organization, Think Big America, focused on passing abortion rights ballot measures around the country. Pritzker, a rising figure and major donor in national Democratic politics, plans to throw even more of his political and financial firepower into the fight to pass a ballot measure this fall in Ohio and efforts to get similar measures on the ballot in 2024 and beyond.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, Pritzker has signed new laws expanding abortion access in Illinois, a key access point in the Midwest. He’s also tapped into his vast political and financial resources to fund abortion rights measures and candidates on the ballot.
Now, he’s taking his efforts to the national level.
“Since the very earliest moments of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, I have been involved in helping to combat what is clearly a Republican effort to go state by state by state to take away these rights,” Pritzker told The 19th. “I was successful in Illinois — and now believe that we can be successful nationally at pushing back on their efforts.”
Since the overturn of Roe, ballot measures have proven to be a successful way for abortion rights advocates to enshrine abortion rights in California, Michigan and Vermont and reject additional restrictions in Kansas, Kentucky and Montana. Democratic leaders, including Pritzker, have pushed for their party to embrace ballot measures to mobilize and expand the coalition of voters supportive of abortion rights.
Pritzker, 58, a billionaire first elected to Illinois’ governorship in 2018, has leveraged his wealth to fund Democratic Party infrastructure and build national influence, leading to his name being floated as a potential 2028 presidential candidate. Since last summer, he’s heavily centered abortion rights in his policy agenda and public advocacy.
Think Big America, a 501(c)4 nonprofit, is Pritzker’s latest step to centralize and formalize that work. The organization is now funded just by Pritzker but will accept other donations, an aide said, and will contribute to ballot measure campaigns in Ohio and Nevada “in the coming days.” Several senior Pritzker advisers and other members of the governor’s campaign team will start to split their time with the new organization.
Think Big America will primarily focus on passing pro-abortion rights ballot measures, but Pritzker and his team said the organization’s mission will also expand to fighting anti-LGBTQ+ laws and book bans. Think Big America could also support lawsuits challenging abortion bans in the states, Pritzker said.
“This is the moment,” he said. “We cannot let these laws criminalizing women’s independent choices set in.”
The next big fight is in Ohio, which is voting this year on a ballot measure that would guarantee a right to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care in the state constitution. Pritzker made a $250,000 contribution to the coalition supporting the measure over the summer and has lent some of his political aides to support the effort.
“I think Ohio is a very natural place for the governor to invest in,” said Democratic Illinois state Rep. Margaret Croke, a Think Big America board member. “And as it pertains to 2024, choice is going to be an issue for every single election for every single year until we have a completely pro-choice country.”
A victory in Ohio would boost abortion rights advocates aiming to put similar constitutional amendments on the 2024 ballot in the purple states of Arizona and Nevada and Republican-leaning Florida, Missouri and South Dakota.
Some strategists believe abortion rights amendments in blue and battleground states could drive up turnout for Democrats in a key presidential election year. The Democratic Party will be fighting to hold the White House and the U.S. Senate, and win back the U.S. House of Representatives.
“[Think Big America] is focused on those ballot measures themselves,” Pritzker said. “But obviously, people get out to vote when they care about something that’s on the ballot.”
Ballot measures are expensive and time-consuming, and it’s a heavy lift for abortion rights advocates in many states to gather enough signatures and resources. In states like Ohio, Florida and Missouri, elected Republican officials are using the levers of powers to attempt to thwart abortion rights measures from getting on the ballot and passing.
Croke said Think Big America will seek to support grassroots organizations and advocates on the ground, many of whom operate in states without robust Democratic and progressive campaign infrastructure. The organization, she said, will analyze the states that could most benefit and be “thoughtful” about where they invest.
“I think they will do a good job of identifying the places that need this investment and that there will be a path forward once they make that investment to success, whether that’s a ballot measure or it could be a Supreme Court justice race,” she said. “We’ve got smart people working on Think Big.”
Pritzker envisions Think Big America as a central hub not just to distribute financial resources to states but also to exchange campaign expertise, strategies and tactics between states.
“Having been involved in the Ohio effort, having been involved in Kansas, being involved in Nevada and Arizona, and so on, these are learning experiences that we’re able to offer to the states that we are getting engaged with now,” Pritzker said. “I think there’s a real benefit to having someone on the national stage and an organization on the national stage really focused on pushing this issue in this election cycle.”
While abortion rights advocates are currently on a winning streak, Pritzker and Croke acknowledge the long way ahead for the movement to restore abortion rights and access throughout the country.
“Not every state is ready to go after a referendum in 2024,” Pritzker said. “Hopefully, there will be a Congress and a president together that will be able to pass national abortion rights legislation to protect women in every state. But for now, this may take a number of years — and we’re going to go after it wherever and whenever we need to.”