Lake Forest megadonors eschewed suburban candidates in the first quarter, records show

Lake Forest's Uihleins give to just one Illinoisan

The suburbs' most prodigious political donor and his wife made about $6.9 million in campaign contributions in the year's first quarter - but only one went to a candidate in Illinois.

The vast majority of donations from Lake Forest's Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein went to Republican congressional campaigns in 21 other states and to national groups, records show.

After every Chicago-area congressional and statewide candidate the Uihleins backed in last year's midterm election lost, political expert Kent Redfield predicted the couple would eschew Illinois and focus on national politics for at least the next two cycles.

If first-quarter activity is any indication, Redfield - a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield - appears to be dead-on.

"There are lots of better places for Uihlein to be spending his money if he wants to protect Republican seats or flip Democratic seats," Redfield said last week.

Neither of the Uihleins, who rarely grant interviews, could be reached for comment.

A generous couple

An heir to the Schlitz brewing fortune, Richard Uihlein cofounded the Wisconsin-based Uline shipping supply company with his wife. He's Uline's CEO, and she's its president.

Richard Uihlein was the nation's second-biggest political spender in the 2022 election cycle with $89.8 million in contributions to GOP candidates and causes, according to Open Secrets, a nonprofit group that tracks money in U.S. politics. Only New York billionaire and Democratic supporter George Soros gave more, $178.8 million.

The other Illinoisans who appear in Open Secrets' most recent Top 100 are Fred Eychaner of Chicago, at No. 9 with $35.8 million in donations; Shirley W. Ryan of Winnetka, at No. 12 with $28.2 million; Janet J. Duchossois of Oak Brook, at No. 29 with about $10.4 million; Justin Ishbia of Chicago, at No. 59 with $5 million; and Glen E. Tullman of Chicago, at No. 84 with about $3.7 million.

Former Chicagoan Ken Griffin, who moved to Florida last year, was No. 3 with nearly $72.7 million in donations.

Elizabeth Uihlein didn't make the list. She and her husband were ranked fourth in the 2020 cycle, however.

The Uihleins' largesse is detailed in reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections and the Federal Elections Commission. The latest documents reflect financial transactions made from Jan. 1 to March 31.

Where his cash went

Starting this cycle, individual donors can give up to $3,300 per federal candidate per election. Primary and general elections are separate contests, so a donor can give a candidate up to $6,600 per cycle - or $9,900 if a race advances to a runoff.

Donors previously had been limited to $2,900 per election.

Richard Uihlein gave $187,600 to 33 Republican congressional representatives last quarter, records show. U.S. Rep. Mary Miller of downstate Oakland was the only one from Illinois, receiving $5,800.

Other recipients included U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona. Each received $5,800.

Gosar is "incredibly grateful" for Uihlein's support, campaign consultant Rory McShane said.

"The Uihleins understand that we are in the fight of our life to save the Republic, and their support is both appreciated and necessary," McShane said.

Club for Growth Action, a super PAC that on its website claims to back "the right kind of conservatives," got $5.5 million from Uihlein in the quarter, records show - more than from any other donor.

In all, Uihlein made about $5.7 million in federal contributions during the first three months of 2023.

At the state level, Uihlein gave $10,000 to Safe Suburbs USA, a political action committee founded by Naperville resident Kevin Coyne, a former city council member now serving on the local library board. In a state filing, the group describes itself as supporting "pro-law enforcement and pro-public safety candidates and policy-making."

In this month's local elections, the group supported a Chicago alderman and three municipal candidates in Naperville, records show.

Coyne said he appreciates Uihlein's support but noted the billionaire is among "hundreds" of people who have contributed to Safe Suburbs USA.

"We look forward to growing our organization and to the continued support of a great many people and stakeholders - regardless of their political affiliation," he said.

Where her cash went

Elizabeth Uihlein gave $53,100 to nine GOP lawmakers in the quarter, records show. Among them were House Republican Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, each of whom got $6,600.

Three congressmen got cash from both Uihleins: Scott Fitzgerald and Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin and Troy Nehls of Texas.

Elizabeth Uihlein also made nearly $1.2 million in donations to federal political action committees, including:

• $300,700 to one bearing Scalise's name.

• $165,200 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

• $413,000 to the Republican National Committee.

• $255,500 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Elizabeth Uihlein didn't give anything to candidates or political groups in Illinois.

'No reason to care'

The couple's dearth of donations to Illinois candidates doesn't surprise Redfield.

The Democrat-drawn legislative maps adopted ahead of the 2022 election and the Illinois Republican Party's continued struggles make the prospect of turning blue seats here into red ones "very difficult," Redfield said.

GOP congressional and senatorial campaigns in other states probably look like better investments, he said.

"Uihlein wants to change the direction of American politics," Redfield said. "There is no reason to care about or invest in the outcome of Illinois elections."

That's unlikely to change soon, Redfield said, even with the 2024 presidential election on the horizon.

"The Republican presidential nomination contest will probably be over by the time the (race) gets to Illinois," he said.

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Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Miller of downstate Oakland is the only Illinois candidate who received a first-quarter campaign contribution from megadonor Richard Uihlein, records show. Associated Press
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, shown here during a subcommittee meeting earlier this month, was among the Republicans who received first-quarter campaign contributions from megadonor Richard Uihlein, records show. He got $5,800. Associated Press
Safe Suburbs USA, a political action committee founded by Naperville's Kevin Coyne, shown here, got a $10,000 donation from Richard Uihlein in April, records show.

Giving up on Illinois?Here's where Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein's campaign donations went from Jan. 1 to March 31.

<b>Richard Uihlein</b>• Federal candidates: $187,600 (33 recipients, including one from Illinois)

• Federal political action committees: $5.5 million (two recipients)

• State-registered candidates in Illinois: 0

• State-registered PACs in Illinois: $10,000 (one recipient)

<b>Elizabeth Uihlein </b>• Federal candidates: $53,100 (nine recipients)

• Federal political action committees: $1.2 million (eight recipients)

• State-registered candidates in Illinois: $0

• State-registered PACs in Illinois: $0

Sources: Federal Election Commission, Illinois State Board of Elections

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