Once Trump supporters, billionaire Uihleins now spending millions to help DeSantis

A billionaire couple from Lake Forest who backed Donald Trump's previous presidential campaigns is supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' bid for the White House in 2024.

Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein each gave the pro-DeSantis Never Back Down super PAC $1 million this spring, according to a financial report filed July 31 with the Federal Election Commission.

Additionally, Richard Uihlein gave $6,600 to the Ron DeSantis for President committee in June.

While donations to super PACs aren't legally capped, $6,600 is the most an individual donor can give to a federal candidate per election cycle.

The Uihleins haven't given anything to Trump's 2024 campaign or political action committees supporting the former president's reelection, records show.

The couple's shifting allegiance didn't surprise Missy Mouritsen, a political science professor at College of DuPage.

"(DeSantis) is a conservative purist and has produced results in Florida that the Uihleins would like to see here in the Midwest," Mouritsen said.

Known to eschew interviews, the Uihleins couldn't be reached for comment. The DeSantis and Trump campaigns didn't respond to interview requests, either.

Millions for Trump

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; she's the president.

Richard Uihlein was the nation's top GOP donor in the 2022 federal election cycle, according to Open Secrets, a nonprofit group that tracks money in U.S. politics. The couple ranked fourth in the 2020 cycle.

The Uihleins gave millions to pro-Trump political committees ahead of Trump's 2016 election and in the years that followed, including:

• More than $2 million to the Trump Victory committee.

• $500,000 to the committee that funded Trump's inauguration.

• $200,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC called Great America PAC.

• More than $3 million to a pro-Trump super PAC called America First Action.

• About $17,000 to a political action committee known both as Donald J. Trump for President and Make America Great Again.

• More than $500 to the Trump Make America Great Again super PAC.

But the flow of Uihlein money to the Trump campaign and the super PACs supporting him apparently has stopped. Neither Uihlein has donated to any Trump-related organization since Trump lost the 2020 election, records show.

Why DeSantis?

Although the Uihleins favor conservative candidates, they don't always support the same ones. Richard occasionally backs long shots, while Elizabeth tends to work within the mainstream GOP, noted Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.

That both Uihleins are lined up behind DeSantis and not the thrice-indicted Trump reflects the candidates' ideological differences and their perceived electability, Redfield said.

"Do you see Trump as the inevitable Republican nominee, or do you see a growing chance that his legal problems will make him too toxic to win - not only in the general election, but in the primary?" Redfield said.

The Uihleins may not be the last big-money donors to abandon the former president, Mouritsen said, especially as the criminal charges against him mount. And those donors have choices, including established Republicans U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

But DeSantis' anti-woke message and the conservative policies he's endorsed and enacted in Florida might be more attractive, Mouritsen said.

"DeSantis seems a logical place for the money to go," she said.

Who's being backed by suburban megadonors Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein?

Uihlein-funded super PAC dumps cash into local congressional races

Where the Uihleins sent $36 million last fall

Megadonors eschew suburban candidates in Q1

Trump indicted for efforts to overturn 2020 election and block transfer of power

Courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times Richard Uihlein
Former President Donald Trump, left, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are seeking the Republican Party nomination for president in 2024. A suburban billionaire has switched allegiance from Trump to DeSantis, records show. Associated Press
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