BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
He's a free-market, anti-regulation, small government, anti-union, homophobic, tax avoiding crusader. He was the fourth largest contributor to outside spending groups in the 2016 election cycle, and he and his wife are among the biggest Republican contributors in this year's midterm elections. He was a top donor to the failed Alabama Senate campaign of the disgraced Roy Moore, and he remains an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump. You wouldn't recognize him at a highway rest stop, and you couldn't pick him out of a line-up. Politico's Maggie Severns called him "one of the most influential, but still little-known, political donors in the country."
Like many mega-wealthy conservatives trying to shape politics, Richard Ellis "Dick" Uihlein would probably tell you that he just wants his point of view to resonate. And, since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, his money is resonating loud and clear, not only in the race for the Senate in Wisconsin, and the battle over the governorship of Illinois, but at conservative organizations across the country.
Wisconsin's senate race has become one of the most hotly contested races this year, and the Illinois-based Uihlein is in the thick of it. According to an email from Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin's campaign, Uihlein has "directed much of his spending" toward defeating Baldwin. In Illinois, Uihlein put $2 million into the campaign chest of state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who recently lost in a close race in the GOP primary, where she challenged Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Who is Dick Uihlein and how did he become such a major force in the politics of Wisconsin, Illinois and lord knows where else?
Chicago 5's Mary Ann Ahern reported that, "Uihlein and his wife Liz own Uline Corporation, a shipping and office supply company that distributes 30,000 products, ranging from bags to bubble wrap to barcode labels" and is headquartered in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. "The couple lives in Lake Forest, [Illinois] and Wisconsin, often sharing their conservative political views with customers and employees alike.
"In 2010, they moved the company's headquarters from Waukegan to Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, in exchange for nearly $19 million in tax incentives. Liz Uihlein writes a company newsletter that has delved into topics including their support for Fox News, as well as disappointment with government regulation."
According to SourceWatch, a project of The Center for Media and Democracy, "Uihlein contributed a total of $19,068,500 to super PACs, Hybrid PACs and Historical Soft Money Party Accounts while his wife Liz has contributed $2,525,000 (As of July 22, 2016). Uihlein is the fourth largest contributor to outside spending groups in the 2016 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, spending a total of $13,658,500 in disclosed outside spending."
In late November of last year, longtime journalist Lynn Sweet wrote in the Chicago Sun Times that Uihlein "has vaulted into the ranks of national mega donors — leveraging his personal direct political giving with funds from a charity he controls."
The family's "annual IRS 990 reports filed by the tax-exempt Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, where Uihlein serves as president, reveals major donations from the charity to nonprofits devoted to promoting a conservative political agenda," Sweet pointed out.
Organizations supported by The Ed Uihlein Foundation include: Accuracy in Academia, Accuracy in Media, Eagle Forum, Landmark Legal Foundation, Media Research Center, Federalist Society, Heartland Institute, Turning Point USA, and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
Over the past few years, thanks in large part to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, "Uihlein has transitioned from a reliable middle-level donor to individual campaigns to a big-time super PAC player."
Uihlein's great-grandfather was a co-founder of Milwaukee's Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co., and like other notable mega-wealthy conservatives – think the Koch Brothers and their John Birch Society father -- Uihlein "may well have inherited some of his views from his father," Sweet reports. Edgar Uihlein, the co-founder of General Binding Corp. who died in Lake Bluff in May 2005, was highly "praised by Rep. Phil Crane, R-Ill., the conservative hero who died last November."
Sweet also noted that "Uihlein is the major donor to the Liberty Principles PAC, contributing $2.65 million since 2012, counting a transfer in from the related federal Liberty Principles PAC Inc."
He has "poured $550,000 into the Senate Conservatives Action PAC since 2013," and "$2.2 million to The Club for Growth Action PAC since 2010," Sweet pointed out. He also put his money into trying to defeat Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, donating $950,000 to America's PAC, the biggest "outside group spending money against Durbin."
Uihlein has a strong interest in Wisconsin politics, having donated to Scott Walker's election and recall campaigns.
And, according to the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune, Uihlein has contributed $500,000 to a Kansas City-based political action committee named "Freedom to Work," whose chief goal is to make Missouri a "right-to-work" state.
Last year, according to the Daily Beast, Uihlein provided $100,000 to the pro-Moore group, Proven Conservative PAC, making him the PAC's biggest donor. It has also been reported that Uihlein also donated $500,000 last year to Senate Conservatives Action, which spent $400,000 in favor of Roy Moore in the race.
"I'm a conservative Republican, and I'm trying to help people who believe as I do in limited government and free markets. I'm not one to hide from that," Uihlein told Crain's Chicago Business in 2013.
Naturally, Uihlein wants to win elections, but even if he doesn't, he is confident that with each donation, he moves the political debate that much further to the right. That right there – playing the long game -- is getting a pretty good bang for your millions.