Which candidates are being backed by suburban megadonors Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein?
A suburban billionaire and his wife have contributed millions of dollars to conservative candidates and organizations across Illinois and the nation this election cycle, state and federal records show.
And though senatorial, congressional and gubernatorial hopefuls are among the beneficiaries of Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein's largesse, the Lake Forest couple hasn't limited their contributions to top-of-the-ticket candidates.
For GOP candidates taking on well-funded Democrats in Illinois, the Uihleins' support is welcome, said Lake County Republican Party Chair Keith Brin.
"Republican candidates need donors like the Uihleins to contribute to their campaigns because our candidates don't receive millions of dollars from (Gov. J.B.) Pritzker and progressive unions like the Democrats do," said Brin, who served two terms as Lake County's circuit court clerk and whose campaign committee received $8,900 from Richard Uihlein. "It's a big and necessary boost to be able to get their message out."
But some groups that have received significant Uihlein support have been criticized for what they've done with their funding. One such group was accused this week of darkening Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's skin tone in a commercial; another reportedly participated in the rally that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Whom they support
An heir to the Schlitz brewing fortune, Richard Uihlein cofounded the Uline shipping supply company with his wife. He serves as Uline's CEO, and she is the Wisconsin-based company's president. Known to avoid interviews, they couldn't be reached for comment.
Together, the Uihleins have donated millions to well-known and low-profile candidates and groups. The first category includes former President Donald Trump, former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and - after a split with Rauner - 2018 gubernatorial challenger Jeanne Ives.
The politician who has received the most support from Richard Uihlein this cycle is gubernatorial hopeful Darren Bailey. Uihlein has given Bailey's campaign more than $9 million, Illinois State Board of Elections records indicate.
Uihlein also has donated more than $28 million to an independent committee called the People Who Play By the Rules PAC that targeted Bailey's chief GOP rival, Richard Irvin, in the June primary and now is attacking Pritzker.
This week, Lightfoot accused the group of darkening her skin tone in an anti-Pritzker ad. The group's leader, conservative radio host and longtime Uihlein ally Dan Proft, has denied the accusation.
Uihlein has given to Illinois Republicans running for a variety of other offices this cycle, including:
• State Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods, whose campaign received $277,137.
• Kane County treasurer candidate Chris Lauzen of Aurora, who received $15,000.
• DuPage County Board candidate Annette Corrigan of Wheaton, whose campaign received $2,500.
• Lake County sheriff candidate Mark Vice II of Round Lake, who got $3,000.
In total, Uihlein has donated more than $34 million to candidates running for county or state offices in Illinois or to state-based political action committees this cycle, records show.
Elizabeth Uihlein has donated $29,000 to county- or state-level campaigns and political groups this cycle, including the Illinois Republican Party, the Lake County Republican Federation and Lake County Judge Daniel Shanes' unsuccessful state Supreme Court bid.
Cash from the Uihleins can encourage other GOP donors to get involved, Brin said.
"It gives those candidates legitimacy and indicates to other donors that candidate is worthy of their support," Brin said.
Federal races, too
On the national level, the Uihleins each have given $2,900 - the cap for donations to federal candidates - to GOP congressional candidate Catalina Lauf of Woodstock, according to Federal Election Commission records.
And in Illinois' 6th District race, they've each given $2,900 to Republican Keith Pekau of Orland Park.
The Uihleins also are supporting federal candidates in Wisconsin, Arizona, Texas and other states this cycle, including former vice presidential nominee and current Alaska congressional hopeful Sarah Palin.
Whereas donations to federal candidates are limited by law, those to national political groups or political action committees aren't - and the Uihleins have been generous.
Elizabeth Uihlein has given $365,000 to the Republican National Committee and $394,500 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee this cycle, records show. She's also made six- and seven-figure donations to political action committees called Wisconsin Truth and Protect Ohio Values.
Richard Uihlein has donated $511,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee this cycle, records show. He's given nearly $14 million this cycle to a conservative super PAC called Restoration PAC, too.
From 2016 to 2020, Richard Uihlein gave more than $4 million to a group called the Tea Party Patriots, records show. That group has been accused of backing the Jan. 6 rally of Trump supporters who wanted to overturn the election, which preceded the assault on the Capitol.
In a news release after the riot, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called on Republican senators to disavow Uihlein "and refuse any further donations from him or his network."
Before this year, the Uihleins probably were better known outside Illinois because of how Pritzker and conservative billionaire Ken Griffin threw money around the political scene here, said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.
More conservative states probably seemed like better investments for the couple's cash, too, Redfield said.
But now, after Griffin backed the third-place Irvin in the governor's race and packed up for Miami, a Bailey win in November could propel the Uihleins higher in the political world, Redfield said.
A loss, however, could turn the Uihleins into "a footnote in ... the continued diminishment of the Illinois Republican Party," Redfield said.