The Ed Uihlein Family Foundation is the charitable foundation of billionaire couple Dick and Liz Uihlein. They founded the shipping supply company Uline – one America’s largest private companies, with an estimated value of $4 billion. The Uihleins have been characterized as “lesser known” political megadonors by outlets such as Forbes. Originally from Illinois, the Uihleins relocated to Wisconsin after the state gave Uline $20 million in tax benefits. They have since remained active in Wisconsin politics as well as Illinois politics.
According to the New York Times, the Uihleins have a reputation for backing political candidates and causes that align with their “anti-union, free-market and small-government views.” Early in their rise to prominence, a watchdog described Dick Uihlein by stating: “some (donors) want the party to do well, and some want to push the party in one direction or another. Uihlein is clearly in that smaller camp.”
The Uihleins were enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns and were invited to his inauguration. The New York Times considered them “the most powerful conservative couple you’ve never heard of” by 2018.
The Uihleins have used their vast private wealth to deeply affect the culture of America’s right in the 2010s and 2020s by:
The Uihleins have a reputation of refusing to give interviews and engage with the press. Thus, information on their personal lives and backgrounds is somewhat limited. The most meaningful explanation of their ideology comes from a 2013 Crain’s Chicago Business profile of Dick Uihlein, at the start of his journey to megadonor status. In that profile, Dick said: “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.” He also said that supporting moderate candidates was appalling, claiming that doing so goes against “being principled.”
According to his wife Liz, Dick generally takes the lead on the family’s political giving, though she acknowledged that she sometimes makes contributions in her own name.
Dick Uihlein was born into the Schlitz Beer fortune. His great-grandfather purchased the company in the middle of the 19th century. The company prospered in the early post-war years under the stewardship of the Uihleins — around the time Dick was born. The company experienced not one but two famous strikes before Dick turned 40. Due to a variety of poor business decisions and the impending regulation of harmful chemicals key to its operations, Schlitz also lost more than 90% of its value between 1974 and 1982, and was sold to a competitor. These events may have helped contribute to the formation of his anti-union, anti-regulation, and anti-tax views.
Liz and Dick Uihlein founded Uline in 1980 after Dick left his family beer business. Liz is known for her outsized influence on the town of Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, where she and Dick own a summer home. According to The New York Times, Liz’s is known in the town for “buying up businesses, spending millions on public improvements and dispensing unsolicited advice.” According to one local resident, Liz allegedly bought a property in 2014 following rumors a Pakistani investor was set to purchase it. In an email circulated around Manitowish Waters, Liz said: “I bought the motel as a defensive move for Manitowish Waters because the owner … was going to sell to what several of us, including the Mayor, thought was not in the best interests of the town.”
Liz is also well known for using the Uline company newsletter to express political and cultural viewpoints. Among other topics, she has written company newsletters in which she:
In the early months of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Liz Uihlein attempted to fight anti-lockdown measures in both Illinois and Wisconsin – emailing state officials that the virus “overhyped” and was bad for business. In November 2020, Liz and Dick both tested positive for the virus, and a 2021 investigation by The Guardian claimed that Uline employees were exposed to COVID at higher rates than its surrounding communities.
According to one of Dick’s first major public profiles, he and Liz were “modest but reliable” Republican donors before the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010. That decision allowed for unlimited independent political contributions and led to the rise of anonymized political giving.
The early 2010s also saw the rise of the right-wing Tea Party movement, which was characterized as a backlash to the election of Barack Obama. The movement positioned itself as populist, but major corporate donors and billionaire-funded think tanks such as FreedomWorks played a major role in elevating the Tea Party. Dick gained a reputation as the largest backer of the Tea Party in Illinois in the early 2010s.
According to watchdog OpenSecrets, Dick Uihlein has personally donated over $188.39 million to federal political candidates and causes – all conservative – since the 2010 election cycle. His spending dramatically increased after the election of Donald Trump. As of October 20, 2022 Uihlein is the second biggest spender in the 2022 election cycle.
The Uihleins are known to flood primary races with money, a practice that is relatively rare among large donors. According to the Washington Post, “Uihlein’s checks come in amounts once unheard of for individual donations to a single race,” and he donates to outside groups that have no donation limits so they can “[blanket] local TV coverage with advertising.”
The 2022 Illinois gubernatorial primary provides a case study of the Uihleins’ influence: a June 2022 Illinois Times op-ed said that a flood of political donations from Dick Uihlein “dragged [the Illinois Republican Party] into the hard-right camp at the state level” after successfully avoiding such a drift for decades. The op-ed pointed to Dick’s donations to the “People Who Play By The Rules PAC,” which supported far-right gubernatorial candidates Darren Bailey and Dan Proft, the latter of whom is a long time ally who used Uihlein money to fund a national network of propaganda outlets masquerading as local news outlets. According to the Center For Illinois Politics, Uihlein has given PWPBTR PAC at least $28 million in the 2022 primary cycle.
With Uihlein backing, Dan Bailey won the 2022 GOP gubernatorial primary – trouncing Republican-establishment pick Richard Irvin by over 42 percentage points. Bailey is a hardline anti-abortion politician, having once said that “the attempted extermination of the Jews of World War II doesn’t even compare on a shadow of the life that has been lost with abortion since its legalization.” Bailey also refuses to acknowledge the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The Uihleins have a history of donating to fringe political figures. According to the Chicago Sun Times, over “$9 of every $10 megadonors Dick Uihlein and his wife Liz have contributed directly to congressional candidates running in the midterms have gone to Republicans who cast doubt on President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020.” Additionally:
In 2010, The Uihelins gave $585,000 to right-wing politician Dan Proft’s failed Illinois gubernatorial run –$500,000 of which was given after he lost the race. Proft was previously best known for his 2006 candidacy for Cook County, Illinois’ board president. When his campaign was unsuccessful, the Proft’s supporters stormed government buildings in protest – an action he defended. New Trier Township, Illinois Community Partnerships Coordinator Steven Anderson compared this incident to the January 6th capitol riot.
Proft became the chairman of the Liberty Principles PAC in 2012, a right-wing super PAC bankrolled by the Uihleins. Proft used Liberty Principles PAC to distribute campaign materials deceptively designed to look like local newspapers. Despite a complaint to the Illinois Election Board, Proft continued to route Uihlein money through Liberty Principles to finance the operations of Brian Timpone. Timpone would go on to create a nationwide network of politicized digital outlets designed to appear like local media. By 2020, Timpone created a network of over 1,200 outlets using this model.
The Uihleins have frequently funded anti-LGBTQ candidates and causes.
The Uihlein family funded COVID-19 conspiracists and personally downplayed COVID-19’s severity – all while their company was making money from government contracts related to the pandemic.
The Uihleins have been a major financial supporter of efforts to dispute the 2020 election and of politicians who continue to deny its legitimacy.
The Uihleins were supporters of conservative governors Bruce Rauner of Illinois and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, both of whom supported school choice policies. Dick personally gave $2.6 million to Rauner in 2014 and $350,000 to Rauner-allied groups the same year. In 2012, Dick and Liz collectively gave Walker at least $200,000 directly and in 2015 they gave $2.5 million to Walker’s failed presidential bid.
“Freedom of choice” in schooling was originally a means of defying the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which required the desegregation of public schools, but not private ones. Groups interested in privatizing government services and resources later found common cause with those who wanted to perpetuate racial segregation. A 2022 study covered by the Washington Post found that states that passed school choice legislation saw a degradation in their public school systems.
The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, which struck a major blow against public sector unions, was funded by the Illinois Policy Institute’s affiliated law firm, Liberty Justice Center. The New York Times described Dick Uihlein as the “chief financial backer” of the Liberty Justice Center.
After the Janus case was decided, the namesake Mark Janus joined the Illinois Policy Institute. According to data compiled by Sourcewatch, The Ed Uihlein Family Foundation has given the Illinois Policy Institute at least $12.57 million since 2014.
Right-to-work laws require unions to collectively bargain for workers who are not union members and do not pay union dues. According to the Economic Policy Institute, right-to-work laws “seek to hamstring unions’ ability to help employees bargain with their employers for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.” Passing right-to-work legislation has been a goal of business interests for decades and research has found that the laws lead to a decrease in workers’ wages.
The Uihleins have spent large sums to elect pro right-to-work politicians including former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
In 2018, The Uihliens spent $500,000 to defend right-to-work legislation in Missouri. In 2022, the Uihleins gave $1 million to a group fighting against an Illinois initiative that would ban right-to-work laws in the state. The Uihleins are also supporters of the National Right to Work Defense Foundation.
The Uihleins’ company, Uline, moved its headquarters to Wisconsin in 2010 for nearly $20 million in government handouts, and the Uihleins immediately got involved in that state’s politics.
The Uihleins were major backers of Wisconsin’s historically anti-union governor Scott Walker. Walker and the Uihleins became close after the billionaire family poured hundreds of thousands into the 2011 Wisconsin recall elections, in which they “aggressively defended” state senators who voted to end collective bargaining rights for public sector employees. In 2012, Dick and Liz collectively gave Walker at least $200,000 directly, and in 2015, they gave $2.5 million to his failed presidential bid. As governor, Walker passed Act 10, which gutted “the collective bargaining rights of labor unions and devastated the resources and membership rolls of the state teachers union,” according to Politico.
In 2016, the Walker administration came under fire when his Department Of Natural Resources attempted to perform a land swap with Liz Uihlein to award her waterfront property next to a condo she owned.
The Uihleins are closely linked to Donald Trump’s political rise:
The Federalist has been criticized for spreading racially biased, anti-LGBTQ, and disinformation content.
Club For Growth is a political network that is one of America’s leading advocacy organizations for conservative economic agendas. It was founded by conservative bankers Richard Gilder and Thomas Rhodes, alongside economist Stephen Moore – who was an outspoken ally of Donald Trump’s controversial COVID-19 agenda. Club For Growth also runs a super PAC, Club For Growth Action. The Uihleins are one of the largest financial supporters of Club For Growth Action, having given the Super PAC at least $66.27 million since 2010.
ProPublica called the Illinois Policy Institute “arguably the most influential conservative organization in the state.” The Chicago Sun-Times said that the Illinois Policy Institute was a major player in “a crusade against government regulations, state spending and labor unions in Illinois.” According to data compiled by Sourcewatch, The Ed Uihlein Family Foundation has given the Illinois Policy Institute at least $12.57 million since 2014.
The leaders of The Illinois Policy Institute were accused by ProPublica of moving money from the Policy Institute and various other affiliated nonprofits to for-profit ventures where they held a stake. According to ProPublica, “…while the institute attacked political insiders for profiting off the system, [Institute head John] Tillman was able to increase his own bottom line, parlaying a small-government message into growing paychecks for himself and other top staff members.”
|Foundation for Government Accountability||$3,000,000.00|
|Illinois Policy Institute||$2,200,000.00|
|Conservative Partnership Institute||$1,250,000.00|
|Real Clear Foundation||$1,000,000.00|
|The Jack Miller Center||$1,000,000.00|
|Center for Security Policy||$750,000.00|
|One Nation Under God Foundation||$533,500.00|
|Free the People Foundation||$350,000.00|
|Liberty Justice Center||$300,000.00|
|Media Research Center||$300,000.00|
|Sons of Liberty||$300,000.00|
|Turning Point USA||$300,000.00|
|Institute for Humane Studies||$200,000.00|
|The Leadership Institute||$200,000.00|
|American Legislative Exchange Council||$175,000.00|
|Clare Boothe Luce Center||$150,000.00|
|Institute for Free Speech||$150,000.00|
|Intercollegiate Studies Institute||$150,000.00|
|National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation||$100,000.00|
|The Heartland Institute||$100,000.00|
|Texas Public Policy Foundation||$50,000.00|
|Gun Owners Foundation||$30,000.00|
|Center for Urban Renewal and Education||$25,000.00|
|Daily Caller News Foundation||$25,000.00|
|Institute for Justice||$25,000.00|
|State Policy Network||$25,000.00|
|America’s Future Foundation||$20,000.00|
|Accuracy in Media||$15,000.00|
|Competitive Enterprise Institute||$15,000.00|
|Institute on the Constitution||$10,000.00|
|Minnesota Voters Alliance||$10,000.00|
|Network of Enlightened Women||$10,000.00|
|Pro Life Action League||$10,000.00|
|Taxpayer Education Foundation||$10,000.00|
|Washington Legal Foundation||$10,000.00|
|Fund for American Studies||$5,000.00|
|Illinois Family Institute||$5,000.00|
|Jesse Helms Center, The||$5,000.00|
|Landmark Legal Foundation||$5,000.00|
|National Legal and Policy Center||$5,000.00|
|The Goldwater Institute||$5,000.00|
|Students for Liberty||$4,000.00|
|Eagle Forum Foundation||$3,500.00|
|Accuracy in Academia||$3,000.00|
|Pacific Legal Foundation||$2,500.00|
|Foundation for Teaching Economics||$1,000.00|
|Second Amendment Foundation||$1,000.00|