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Not the turnaround Rauner wanted? GOP mega donor Uihlein makes beeline to Ives

Gov. Bruce Rauner (left) and state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton. | Sun-Times file photos

He’s one of the most influential political money men in Illinois, and now Lake Forest businessman Richard Uihlein has decided to shift his money and influence from Gov. Bruce Rauner to the governor’s conservative primary challenger.

It’s a move state Rep. Jeanne Ives’ campaign is calling continued “fallout from Governor Rauner’s betrayals and failures.”

Even so, the Rauner campaign on Monday said a We Ask America poll shows the incumbent governor is up 44 percentage points in the March primary — with financial prowess that Ives isn’t going to be able to match.

Uihlein, the business magnate and mega Republican donor, pumped $500,000 into the campaign of Ives, a Wheaton lawmaker who is challenging Rauner in the Republican primary.

Uihlein wrote the check on Jan. 24. About a week earlier, he gave $3 million to the Liberty Principles PAC, run by Dan Proft, a former Rauner ally-turned critic.

The donation marks a shift for the Lake Forest businessman, who over the years has contributed more than $2.6 million to Rauner. But he has given the governor nothing since late 2014.

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Ives can use the cash. She had just $404,028.89 on hand at the end of last year. Rauner had $55,642,670.81.  The $500,000 is the largest single contribution Ives has reported so far in her gubernatorial campaign.

But the Uihlein money does not come without some baggage.

Jeanne Ives, Republican Gubernatorial primary candidate addresses the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board last week. File photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Uihlein was the top donor to a political action committee that paid for ads in support of failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore last year. Moore lost the solidly Republican Senate seat to Democrat Doug Jones after allegations surfaced that that Moore sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl when he was in his 30s, and four other women alleged sexual misconduct while they were underage.

Ives’ campaign on Monday downplayed Uihlein’s contribution to the super PAC, saying “it’s a PAC that donates to a number of things and which advances the cause of liberty.”

“Dick Uihlein is someone that has given to conservative causes, a variety of conservative causes,” Ives campaign spokeswoman Kathleen Murphy said.

Murphy called conservatives Uihlein, Vince Kolber and Ed Bachrach “major supporters of the governor” who are now switching their support to Ives.

“People who want to see a liberty agenda, a small government reform agenda advanced in Illinois. They see that as a solution. They know that’s not happening with Bruce Rauner, just like grassroots supporters,” Murphy said. “It’s extremely encouraging, of course, and it’s the continued fallout from Governor Rauner’s betrayals and failures.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks during City Year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service at Gale Elementary Community Academy earlier this month. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Uihlein — a free-markets, small government crusader — is the co-founder, with his wife, of Uline Corp., which distributes about 30,000 products such as bags, bubble wrap, bar-code labels and boxes.

Ken Griffin —  the founder and CEO of the hedge fund Citadel — last contributed $2.5 million to Rauner’s campaign in December. He contributed a whopping $20 million last May. A spokesman for Griffin on Tuesday morning said he will continue to support Rauner.

Rauner’s campaign didn’t comment on the Uihlein contribution.