GOP megadonor kicks in $13.9 million more to defeat Pritzker, $1 million to oppose union rights amendment
Richard Uihlein’s campaign cash is being used to oppose Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker — not promote Republican nominee Darren Bailey.
With voting already started, Republican megadonor Richard Uihlein poured another $13.9 million into his quest to defeat Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, with the cash to the anti-Pritzker People Who Play By the Rules PAC coming as state campaign finance records show lackluster fundraising by GOP nominee Darren Bailey.
Uihlein is the Lake Forest executive who, with his wife, Elizabeth, runs the Wisconsin-based Uline products distribution company. They are major donors — through a family foundation, state and federal political action committees and direct donations to political campaigns — to conservative candidates and causes across the nation.
Uihlein, one of the top political donors in the country, spreads his political cash through related entities. Here’s an overview of Uihlein’s latest giving:
Illinois governor’s race
Most of the TV ads you may be seeing now slamming Pritzker are not being paid for by Bailey’s campaign. They come from a political action committee — one totally dependent on Uihlein’s cash.
Uihlein bankrolls the People Who Play By the Rules PAC run by Dan Proft, the GOP political operative and radio personality. The PAC devotes most of its resources to opposing Pritzker rather than supporting Bailey. Uihlein’s latest donation was made Wednesday and posted Friday on the Illinois State Board of Elections website.
The spending comes as the billionaire Pritzker apparently has no ceiling when it comes to his personal spending for his reelection and to support other Illinois Democratic candidates.
Uihlein’s $13,923,000 donation Friday is the latest is a series of contributions from him to Proft’s PAC, bringing his total to date to $42 million.
Illinois GOP establishment jumbo donors — that is, individuals and special interest groups — so far have not been sending big checks to Bailey’s campaign, records show.
Neither has Bailey raised substantial cash from an army of small-dollar donors.
Proft’s PAC activities are independent expenditures, that is, by law they are supposed to be independent of the Bailey campaign.
Uihlein boosts Bailey indirectly — by giving money to Proft — and directly, by donating to Bailey’s campaign. The $13.9 million giving suggests Uihlein is focused on Proft’s drive to oppose Pritzker — while not willing — so far — to send megamillions directly to Bailey’s campaign, which Bailey could control.
Uihlein is and has been the major donor to Bailey’s campaign, with much of it — $8 million— spent for the June 28 primary, where a rival, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, was bankrolled by billionaire Ken Griffin.
Records show that Uihlein gave the Bailey campaign $1 million in August.
Since Thursday alone, Proft’s PAC has spent about $5 million, records show — most to produce and buy time for TV, radio and digital ads and robocalls, all to oppose Pritzker.
Uihlein, the labor rights amendment and the Tillman connection
Labor unions — in Illinois and nationally — have sent millions of dollars to the Vote Yes for Workers’ Rights committee, all to promote passage of the proposed amendment at the top of the November ballot. You may have seen their ads on TV. The amendment, if passed, would add to the Illinois Constitution a provision guaranteeing employees “the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively.”
State records show the Vote No on Amendment 1 committee was created on Sept. 7. As of Sunday, the committee has one donor — Uihlein, who contributed $1 million on Sept. 14. The committee has yet to report any of its spending.
The chairman of this new Vote No PAC is John Tillman, chairman of the Illinois Policy Institute. Tillman was one of the major players in the anti-union Janus vs. AFSCME court fight, an Illinois case where the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in Tillman’s favor, said state workers did not have to pay fees to the public service unions representing them.
Uihlein, through a family foundation, has been a heavy supporter of Tillman.
In 2020, the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation donated $2.2 million to the Illinois Policy Institute, according to the foundation’s 990 annual report filed with the IRS. In 2015, I reported that the Ed Uihlein Foundation had donated $2.6 million to the Illinois Policy Institute between 2012 and 2014, according to IRS filings.
Tillman is also the chair of a PAC named Common Sense Reforms NFP, created on Sept. 19.
This is an example of how the name of a PAC does not spell out its agenda. According to state election records, the PAC is boosting Republicans in 20 Illinois House legislative races. According to records filed with the state last week, the spending so far is for political direct mail.
This PAC has one donor — Uihlein, who donated $1.5 million to it on Sept. 26.