House divided: Megadonor couple fight in GOP civil war

“Dick is super hard core, and his wife isn’t so much,” said former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, a former ally of Dick Uihlein who won in the 2010 conservative wave. Candidates from “the hard right and the Tea Party, and blowing it up and burning it – those were the kind of politicians Dick always supported. His wife was a little more established. Thus, they would often disagree on certain candidates.

The split between the Uihleins — the most powerful donor couple in the GOP, if not in all of politics — has come to represent the divide that divides the broader Republican Party. While Liz has spent millions of dollars strengthening the party hierarchy, including candidates and super PACs backed by GOP leaders, Dick has invested even more to tear it down, pouring millions into key extreme challengers. right and insurgent groups.

Relatives of the Uihleins say they have a warm and affectionate marriage, despite their political differences. Friends say their personalities complement each other: she’s outgoing and engaging, he’s more quiet and reserved, and sometimes piquant.

The two worked hand-in-hand to start a shipping supplies business out of their basement in 1980, beginning by selling box resizers. Southeast Wisconsin-based Uline – which now sells products from an 800-plus-page catalog, with items ranging from beer carriers to butcher paper – generated $6.2 billion, according to Forbes. dollars in revenue last year.

The couple’s combined political donations to federal candidates and causes over the past decade exceed $230 million, plus tens of millions more to groups at the state level, according to campaign finance records. Dick is the most active donor, but Liz has made millions of dollars in contributions herself.

The Uihleins began contributing to candidates in the 1990s, and their differing views on politics soon surfaced.

Dick donated to two far-right candidates in the 1996 Republican primary, Pat Buchanan and Alan Keyes. Liz, meanwhile, later revealed that she voted for Democrat Bill Clinton in the 1992 and 1996 elections.

Their donations began to skyrocket after the 2010 Supreme Court decision easing restrictions on campaign finance, but the recipients of their largesse almost immediately objected. Dick – who has complained privately that Republican leaders give in too easily – funneled huge sums to anti-establishment groups like the Anti-Tax Growth Club and Senate Conservative Action, two groups that have frequently clashed with party leadership in disputed GOP primaries.

Dick would later become the primary funder of Restoration PAC, a super PAC that, according to its website, exists to support “really conservative candidates, and [oppose] Leftists and the woke agenda.

Liz, however, has focused her giving on mainstream party organizations: In last year’s midterm elections, she was a major donor to the RNC, GOP House and Senate campaign arms. , and super PACs aligned with the Speaker of the House. Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Those who know the Uihleins — none of whom responded to requests for comment — say they look for radically different things when deciding where to direct their funds. They describe Liz as driven by pragmatism, methodically seeking out the Republican most likely to win.

She has distributed money to party organizations that protect Republican incumbents, such as the Republican National Senate Committee and the McConnell-linked Senate Leadership Fund. And Liz is known to have close ties to the party hierarchy. One of his top aides, Tony Povkovich, sits on the host committee for the 2024 Republican National Convention, to be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. According to a person familiar with the talks, she offered to support the convention financially.

Liz has also attended RNC fundraising events, and during the 2016 campaign, then-RNC chairwoman Reince Priebus asked her to serve on a fundraising committee to benefit Donald Trump.

Dick, on the other hand, is drawn to conservative purists, anti-establishment outsiders and outsiders – some of whom are seen as lost causes.

Over the years, he’s been criticized for wasting millions of dollars on failed candidates, including several in 2022, like Illinois gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey and Arkansas Senate hopeful Jake. Bequette. He funded unsuccessful primary challenges against a number of GOP office holders, including former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman and the late Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran.

Dick’s anti-establishment bent has strained his relationship with Republican leaders – many of whom resent him for bankrolling key challengers against the incumbents and backing candidates they say are hurting the prospects of the left. A single seven-figure donation from Dick, senior Republicans complain, can become a serious headache.

Some prominent Republicans say they don’t bother to contact Dick and only work with Liz, though Dick has occasionally cut six-figure checks to key party committees in Washington.

“She likes being a much more influential donor to the Republican Party,” Walsh said. “Dick could give a shit about all this.”

Those who have interacted with the Uihleins say they make their spending decisions independently of each other, hold their meetings with candidates separately, and rely on different teams of gatekeepers.

While Liz is known to lean on Povkovich, Dick is advised by a team of hard-core conservative activists, including Dan Proft, a radio show host who ran an unsuccessful 2010 campaign for governor of Illinois. , and John Tillman, who leads libertarian-leaning Illinois. political institute. Another key figure in Dick’s orbit is Brian Timpone, a former television journalist who oversees a network of conservative websites.

Candidates who launch Liz must show they have a path to victory. Those who appeal to Dick must prove that they are true believers.

“They approach the issue from two different angles. Dick is ideological and insurgent-focused, and Liz is more about campaign issues and mechanics and, “How are you going to win?” and ‘What is your message?’ said Keith Gilkes, a longtime Wisconsin-based GOP strategist. “They are complete opposites in terms of questions and conversations with candidates.”

This sometimes caused tension. According to two people familiar with the discussions, Liz privately expressed her anger over her husband’s decision to spend millions of dollars to support the disgraced ex-governor. Eric Greitens during last year’s Republican Senate primary in Missouri. Greitens, who resigned as governor after being accused of sexually assaulting his hairstylist, was fiercely opposed in the primary by McConnell’s political operation. Greitens ended up losing the nomination fight.

Walsh recalled that Dick “often awkwardly laughed or talked about how there was tension at home because she was supporting someone and he was supporting someone else”.

Liz appeared to address the rift between her and her husband after the 2020 election, when she wrote an article on her company’s website claiming that families could survive their political differences. Even though she voted for Clinton in the ’90s, Liz says, her marriage “still survived.”

“Family,” she wrote, “always trumps politics.”

It’s unclear whether the Uihleins — who live in Lake Forest, Ill., about 25 miles south of their company headquarters — will face each other in the 2024 election. Some people familiar with the couple point out that, despite their differences, the two sometimes overlapped in their support for candidates and causes.

One case occurred in the 2016 GOP primary, when the two donated millions to support then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s short-lived presidential bid.

“Both are conservative. They just both have strong opinions about individual candidates,” Walker said. “One of the ones they agreed on was me.”


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