When Wisconsin airwaves begin drowning in political ads this year, voters in the Badger State will have an Illinoisan to thank.
The U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin has drawn by far the most outside spending of any 2018 midterm election contest. And the vast majority of it has come from a single donor: Lake Forest, Illinois, businessman Richard Uihlein. The founder and CEO of shipping product giant Uline has vaulted himself to the upper echelon of Republican megadonors. And the Wisconsin senate race is his number one target.
Uihlein has poured millions directly into the contest by way of a pair of super PACs that he funds almost single handedly. But those donations only scratch the surface of the money he’s injected into the race. Uihlein has also provided major cash infusions of late to more established conservative groups that have endorsed his preferred Wisconsin senate candidate, Delafield businessman and Marine Corps veteran Kevin Nicholson. Meanwhile, Uihlein’s family foundation has written large checks to nonprofit groups that, though officially nonpartisan, have quietly boosted Nicholson’s candidacy with ostensibly apolitical activities targeting a Republican primary rival and Nicholson’s would-be general election opponent.
A descendant of noted the Milwaukee brewers beer brand Schlitz, Uihlein, who did not respond to a request for comment on this story, lives north of Chicago, and his company is headquartered just across the state line, in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. He’s jumped into previous high profile races in Wisconsin, including providing major financial backing for Gov. Scott Walker’s gubernatorial campaigns. In May, Uihlein cut a $250,000 check to the state Republican Party.
But Uihlein has really flexed his financial muscle in past federal elections. He and his wife were the ninth largest individual political donors in the 2016 cycle, shelling out nearly $24 million to elect President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But in 2018 cycle, Uihlein has already claimed the top spot among the nation’s most deep-pocketed political donors. He’s even outpacing Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer, who has held the top spot since 2014.
The bulk of Uihlein’s financial heft has gone to two super PACs backing Nicholson’s primary bid against State Senator Leah Vukmir, and taking potshots at incumbent Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Democrats are expected to hold the seat, but Uihlein has nonetheless plowed $3.5 million into the group Solutions for Wisconsin—he is the group’s only publicly disclosed contributor—which has run ads backing Nicholson’s candidacy. Solutions has passed along $750,000 to another super PAC, Restoration PAC, which has spent the bulk of its funds attacking Baldwin, though the group has also gone after vulnerable West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin.
Other Uihlein-backed groups have also jumped in on Nicholson’s behalf.