Multibillionaire Ken Griffin didn’t mince words when he compared city crime to Afghanistan “on a good day” during a fiery appearance at the Economic Club of Chicago this week. But the Citadel founder’s not-so-veiled threat to move his hedge fund’s headquarters because of Chicago’s rising violence raises questions about whether Griffin, the state’s second-richest man with an estimated net worth of $16 billion, has used his vast resources to address the root cause of his complaints.
A Crain’s review of publicly available information detailing Griffin’s philanthropic giving—which exceeds $1 billion over his lifetime—shows that just a sliver of his donations support anti-violence and policing in Chicago. That includes a $10 million donation in 2018 to the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, which allowed researchers to develop data-driven strategies to improve policies at the Chicago Police Department, and $10,000 from his company foundation to the Chicago Police Foundation in 2019.
By far, though, the biggest beneficiaries of Griffin’s wealth include museums, universities and political campaigns, including the $53.8 million he poured into defeating Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax amendment. Griffin makes political contributions on both sides of the aisle, having given more than $36 million to former Gov. Bruce Rauner and at least $1.2 million to committees backing Rahm Emanuel for mayor, but overwhelmingly favors Illinois Republicans, according to records from the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Griffin has given even more to universities and cultural institutions. Harvard University, the University of Chicago and Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry each received gifts exceeding $100 million.
“Public safety is the most fundamental purpose of government,” Griffin said in an emailed statement provided by a spokesman. “Our elected leaders have a responsibility to keep our neighborhoods safe and to protect all our citizens from the ravages of crime. Our government officials are spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money on public safety each year and simply aren’t getting the job done. Many philanthropists including myself have funded high-leverage initiatives to try to spur action and drive change in the public sector—but we can’t set the policies or make the leaders secure the peace.”
Still, there’s a need for private dollars to fund programs aimed at reducing violence, says Teny Gross, executive director of the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, a nonprofit founded on Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophies of conflict resolution, community organizing and victim advocacy. Gross says donations from wealthy individuals can underwrite projects, like street outreach programs, that might be considered too risky by government.
“Having private philanthropy and business practitioners in the mix of how we get funded is always good,” he says. “The lives of people should not just be left to one segment of society.”
Most of Griffin’s personal donations are handled privately through the Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund, and staff helps him vet causes before cutting checks. Because the money isn’t administered through a foundation, which would require IRS filings, it’s difficult to get a complete accounting of where Griffin’s dollars wind up, and the model is considered less transparent than other philanthropic vehicles.
Griffin and his ex-wife used to give donations through The Kenneth & Anne Griffin Foundation, but that was closed after their divorce in 2014. Citadel also maintains a company foundation, which supports a wide array of organizations from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to the Council for Economic Education.
According to the Citadel Group Foundation’s last three publicly posted IRS filings, the University of Texas at Austin received the single largest donation of $167,000 in 2018, followed by $130,484 to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in 2016. The only crime-related donation was to the Chicago Police Foundation, which received $10,000 in 2019. In the same time period, Francis W. Parker School netted the most cumulative donations at $224,000, while the Latin School of Chicago received $148,000. Both are private schools.
What else becomes public relies on the discretion of the receiving organizations. Griffin’s spokesman said he’s also given to community-building initiatives like the One Chicago Fund, which invests in neighborhood revitalization projects on the South and West sides, but the organization didn’t respond to a request for comment about details of his support.
Griffin’s most historic gifts include $125 million to the University of Chicago’s economics department, which now bears his name, and $150 million to his alma mater Harvard University—both of which were used to increase student financial aid. More recently, he gave $125 million to the Museum of Science & Industry, which is also rebranding under his name. The Field Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago have also received substantial support from Griffin, joining other museums in Florida and New York.
Griffin’s 2018 donation of $10 million to the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab has allowed the center to implement data-driven policies that flag officers for behavioral intervention, help commanders redistribute police resources based on crime trends and strengthen relations with community-based groups, according to founding Executive Director Roseanna Ander.
Ander said the early intervention system in particular—which utilizes machine learning to analyze citizen complaints and other risk factors to alert supervisors when an officer needs extra support, more training or mental health services—will be rolled out in all Chicago police districts and is being shared with other cities that want to replicate the tool.
“With the resources we got from Ken Griffin, we were able to build that out,” said Ander, who spoke by phone from Philadelphia, where she was meeting with officials about emulating the program. “We used philanthropy to design a truly world-class data-driven early warning system. . . .The work that Ken Griffin invested in has become a model now for other police departments and the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Ander said the Crime Lab has spent down Griffin’s donation, which came about somewhat serendipitously when she heard him address a private organization in 2016. That was when fatal shootings in Chicago spiked to their highest level in nearly two decades, prompting Ander to ask a question after the talk about what role the private sector should play during the crisis. Griffin’s staff later approached her to exchange contact information and then invited her to give a presentation about the Crime Lab’s work.
“The conversation really pivoted to . . . ‘We think Ken wants to do something. What can he do that would be most helpful?’ ” Ander said.
When looking at total dollar figures, however, Griffin’s contributions to anti-violence take a back seat to other funding priorities. For example, the $17 million he’s given to upgrade and renovate the Lakefront Trail since 2016 dwarfs his contribution to the Crime Lab.
An initial $12 million donation for the Lakefront in 2016 created separate paths for pedestrians and bicyclists, and an additional $4.75 million during the pandemic enabled the city to repair storm damage on the path and boost protection against the shoreline.
Citadel and Citadel Securities, a separate market maker owned by Griffin, announced Wednesday that they are partnering with Thrive Scholars, a nonprofit that helps low-income students of color in Chicago and other cities succeed at top-ranked colleges, to create a six-year talent development program focused on STEM and finance. A news release did not specify how much funding the companies are giving but said employees will also serve as mentors and host internships. A Griffin spokesman said it’s a “multimillion-dollar commitment” but didn’t elaborate.
Griffin has supported other education-based initiatives, including the Chicago Public Education Fund, which focuses on improving CPS principals; Griffin serves on the fund’s board of directors. During the pandemic, he donated $7.5 million to help stand up Chicago Connected, a public-private partnership to expand free high-speed internet to public school students.
Outside of philanthropy, Griffin is one of the top contributors to political campaigns at both the federal and state level.
Aside from donating millions to support Emanuel’s mayoral campaign and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s first run for office in 2002, Griffin has donated to support Republican organizations, candidates for the General Assembly and Rauner. In sum, he’s contributed $61 million to Republican campaigns and political causes locally and just under $4 million to Democratic ones.
A.D. Quig contributed.