John Tillman (policy)

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John Michael Tillman
Born Fremont, Michigan
Residence Chicago area
Nationality American
Education B.B.A. (1983)
Alma mater Wayne State University
Occupation Public policy
Organization Illinois Policy Institute; Liberty Justice Center

John M. Tillman is an American entrepreneur and public policy advocate. He is best known for his role as chairman and CEO of the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), a state-based public policy think tank and government watchdog. He also is co-founder and chairman of the Liberty Justice Center[1], a 501(c)(3) public-interest law firm[2], which won its precedent-setting case on June 27, 2018, in Janus v. AFSCME.

Prior to building IPI and LJC into nationally recognized organizations, Tillman found success in the private sector. Later work spearheading political campaigns and leading advocacy organizations helped Tillman to develop a philosophical credo called the “political vise” that has continued to inform his lifework. One of the most influential think tank leaders in the country, Tillman is known for his advocacy of free markets, limited government and for pursuing policies that champion the prosperity of the human spirit.

Early life and family[edit]

Tillman was born and raised in Fremont, Michigan. Tillman’s father was an executive with Gerber Products Company and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. Tillman has two older brothers and a younger brother from his father’s second marriage.[1]

Tillman lives in a northern Chicago suburb with his wife and daughter.[1]


Tillman attended Wayne State University in Detroit. He earned his undergraduate degree in business in 1983. During college he worked at DialAmerica Marketing, where he led growth of several of the company's offices to become the top performing branches.[1]


Play it Again Sports[edit]

In 1985, he moved to Chicago. He started a business called Sports Ideas, Inc. in 1993, a business that opened and operated Play It Again Sports franchises. He opened his first store in 1983 and second the following year. By 2007, he had sold all his remaining ownership in the company.[1]


In addition to leading the re-launch of the Illinois Policy Institute 501(c)(3), Tillman founded:[2]

  • Illinois Policy 501(c)(4)
  • Liberty Justice Center, a 501(c)(3) public-interest law firm
  • Illinois Opportunity Project 501(c)(4)
  • Illinois Liberty Political Action Committee

He also founded other committees and organizations.[2]

Tillman also created the Think Freely Media 501(c)(3) and the Great Communicators Tournament. These organizations advocate for free enterprise and individual liberty, specifically by helping "make the moral case in public policy debates." [2]

He also serves on the board of America’s Future Foundation.[2]

Americans for Limited Government[edit]

Tillman’s entrance into the nonprofit sector began with rebuilding the dormant Americans for Limited Government (ALG), where he worked alongside libertarianactivist Paul Jacob. Tillman served as president of ALG from 2004 to 2006, his first opportunity to pursue his passion for public policy and political activism.

Sam Adams Alliance[edit]

In 2006, Tillman helped launch the Sam Adams Alliance, an organization that provided support to grassroots activists. (It is now defunct).

He served as president of the organization until 2007.

Illinois Policy Institute[edit]

In 2007, Tillman became head of the Illinois Policy Institute, where he currently serves as chairman and CEO. Building on the foundation laid by the original founder, Tillman is credited with building IPI into one of the most influential state-based think tanks in the country. IPI has become the largest state-based think in the country and has outgrown many of its Washington, D.C.-based, nationally focused counterparts. Capitol Fax founder Rich Miller said in a 2017 blog post:[3]

“[Tillman] took a small wonky group and turned it into one of the most feared organizations in this state.”

Janus v. AFSCME[edit]

On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court rendered its decision in the famous Janus v. AFSCME case. The main issue in the case was whether public sector union members could be compelled to pay union dues, some of which go toward political purposes (typically to Democratic party candidates). The case began in Illinois with Mark Janus, a state employee. Janus chose the litigation team at the Liberty Justice Center (Tillman is the co-founder and chairman) to represent him as the plaintiff in the case.[4]

In the case, the Supreme Court ruled that forced union fees are unconstitutional.[4] The Chicago Tribune wrote, "The U.S. Supreme Court, in ruling in favor of Mark Janus’ free speech rights to withhold a $45 monthly payment to the union at his Illinois government workplace, struck a blow for free labor markets."[5]


In 2011, John Tillman won the State Policy Network’s prestigious annual Roe Award. His nomination was based upon his leadership, innovation and accomplishments in public policy and advocating for free-market policies.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e "IPI's Tillman celebrates Supreme Court's Janus decision". Chicago City Wire. 2018-06-28. Retrieved 2018-07-28. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "John Tillman | Illinois Policy". Illinois Policy. Retrieved 2018-07-28. 
  3. ^ "Capitol - Your Illinois News Radar » Tillman speaks". Retrieved 2018-07-28. 
  4. ^ a b "John Tillman: Statement on the Janus v. AFSCME decision". Illinois Policy. 2018-06-27. Retrieved 2018-07-28. 
  5. ^ Greising, David. "The Janus ruling doesn't have to be a death knell for public unions". Retrieved 2018-07-28. 

External links[edit]