Labor vs. big business(man)? Most corporate interests AWOL in battle with unions over workers rights amendment

Business lobbying groups have declined to spend money against the proposal, leaving the fight to a conservative policy group and megadonor Richard Uihlein. Other major donors spent heavily during the primary and expect more funding requests from mayoral candidates. “It comes down to donor fatigue,” a political consultant said.

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Illinois Policy Institute Chairman John Tillman (left); Lake Forest businessman Dick Uihlein (right).

Illinois Policy Institute Chairman John Tillman (left); Lake Forest businessman Dick Uihlein (right).

Facebook; Sun-Times file

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The debate over the proposed workers’ rights amendment should be a rematch between familiar foes — unions and business interests.

Except it’s not that, exactly.

It’s unions largely against a right-wing policy group and one man, Richard Uihlein, CEO of Uline, a distributor of packaging material. Uihlein is a prominent funder of conservative causes and the principal backer of Darren Bailey’s Republican campaign for governor. Other big-money business donors are absent from the fight.

Todd Maisch, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, has spoken out against what the detractors call Amendment 1, but his group’s political action committee has put no money into fighting it. Maisch said business leaders are prioritizing other races on the Nov. 8 ballot, including two seats for the Illinois Supreme Court.

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“Compared with that, the amendment issue got orphaned a little bit, maybe a lot,” Maisch said. 

Other sources said major donors spent heavily during this year’s primary election and await more money calls from campaigns for Chicago mayor. “It comes down to donor fatigue,” a political consultant said.

State campaign records show Uihlein has sent $2 million to Vote No on Amendment 1, the committee the Illinois Policy Institute formed to oppose the measure. John Tillman and Matt Paprocki are the institute’s chairman and president, respectively, and also chairman and treasurer of the campaign committee.

The Vote No committee booked an additional $1 million from the Government Accountability Alliance, another wing of the policy institute that Tillman runs. Except for a couple of small donations, the $3 million is all that’s been raised to fight the amendment, according to the latest filings.

The union side, meanwhile, has raised about $13 million, mostly in big chunks from locals and other labor organizations. It has allowed labor to run TV ads for the amendment along with traditional get-out-the-vote efforts.

The policy institute has revealed little about how it is spending money against the amendment. Reported expenditures of about $337,000 cover web site design, printing and postage. The group has not begun TV ads.

The group would not say if it will run last-minute ads or discuss its spending strategy. It provided this statement from Paprocki:

“The ballot committee is spending money on initiatives that educate voters about Amendment 1 and its dangerous effects on Illinois taxpayers, families and businesses. Unlike the goal of the agenda-driven lobbyists behind Amendment 1, the committee’s focus is on sharing the truth that the amendment will only benefit government union bosses at the expense of Illinois’ most vulnerable communities.”

Uihlein, of Lake Forest, did not reply to a request for comment. His company is based in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.

The Sun-Times has reported that he and his wife have given at least $6.4 million to Republican congressional candidates who have questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

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