Follow the Uihleins' money

Lake Forest couple among top GOP 'mega-donors,' especially in Illinois

 (Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

By Ted Cox

Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein are conservative political donors who've thus far escaped the spotlight shone on top Republican contributors like the Koch brothers, but that might be changing.

The online magazine Inside Philanthropy printed a story in July saying the Uihleins "have attracted attention as GOP mega-donors."

The story stated: "According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Uihleins have given $28.4 million to conservative and Republican outside spending groups in this election cycle, making them the second-largest donors on the right, just behind Sheldon and Miriam Adelson." The center reported that more recently Uihlein donations for the midterm election cycle approached $30 million, and it emphasized that was "disclosed" donations, without accounting for anything given to so-called dark-money super Political Action Committees, which aren't obliged to declare where their money comes from.

The center's OpenSecrets.org website cites dozens of Uihlein donations to conservative causes registered through the Federal Election Commission, including three donations totaling $850,000 this year to a super PAC run by Trump administration National Security Adviser John Bolton.

But that doesn't even take into account Richard Uihlein's political contributions in Illinois, which total more than $27 million over the last couple of decades, according to the State Board of Elections' Contributions List.

The Lake Forest resident backed Bruce Rauner in his initial run for governor four years ago, and he has given abundantly to the Illinois Policy Institute, but after Rauner and the IPI had a political falling out last year Uihlein gave $2.5 million in January to his Republican primary opponent, state Rep. Jeanne Ives.

Before Rauner, Uihlein backed Dan Proft in his 2010 run for governor with almost $600,000, $500,000 of that contributed at the end of the year after the election was over. Proft soon moved on to the Liberty Principles PAC, which got $25,000 from Uihlein in 2012, $600,000 in 2014, then another $4.5 million through 2015, $1.5 million in 2016, $2.5 million in 2017, and then $8 million this year, including $3.5 million at the end of August. Proft is also one of the key players in the dark-money Illinois Opportunity Project.

Proft, who is also a morning radio host on WIND 560-AM, has used the money of late to buy media ad time for preferred candidates, but he also backs them in newspapers and on news websites tailored to various regions of the state, including but certainly not limited to the Chicago City Wire. As small-town papers have withered, Proft's publications, with his conservative financial backing, have filled the void. Capitol Fax blogger Rich Miller stated in a Chicago Sun-Times column last month: "I use Google to automatically track news stories published about every contested legislative race in the state, and for weeks now, maybe 90 percent of the coverage of all those candidates is coming from just a single information source: Dan Proft."

That's just one of the final destinations when you follow the Uihleins' money, but it's one Illinois voters should be most aware of.