The nation’s top outside group donor is an Illinois businessman bankrolling the far right

Illinois multi-multi millionaire Richard Uihlein, who is essentially bankrolling the right-wing insurgency that is seeking to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, has also emerged as the single largest individual donor to outside spending groups across the country this election cycle.

Uihlein, from Lake Forest on Chicago’s North Shore, has spent nearly $15 million of his own money during the 2018 cycle on those outside groups, according to OpenSecrets.org, the data arm of the Washington-based Center for Responsive politics. The center compiles the data from FEC filings.

While Uihlein’s money this cycle has gone mostly to outside spending groups, he also contributed to dozens and dozens of lawmakers in Illinois and across the country.

Only the money Uihlein has donated to these outside groups must be disclosed publicly. For instance, if Uihlein donated money to 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups that are not required to disclose the identity of their donors, that wouldn’t show up in the OpenSecrets tally.

The second biggest individual donor is progressive activist Thomas Steyer of California, who has spent more than $10 million.

Uihlein, who appears never to have articulated his views publicly, does allow his money to talk.

Uihlein’s profile was raised nationally when it emerged he was the single largest contributor to Roy Moore’s Senate campaign in Alabama. And the shipping and industrial supplies magnate made the donation after credible allegations emerged that Moore had abused a 14-year-old child and behaved inappropriately with other teenage girls.

Most recently, Uihlein delivered $2.5 million to Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Rep. Jeanne Ives — which makes up more than 80 percent of the total she has raised so far. He first gave $500,000, then an additional $2 million.

Illinois campaign rules state if one candidate in a statewide race gives his or her campaign over $250,000, then all other candidates can accept, or give their campaign, unlimited amounts. That threshold was breached months ago by Rauner, as well as by Democratic candidates JB Pritzker and Chris Kennedy.

Ives was able to use some of the money her campaign received to air an ad over the weekend attacking Rauner — an ad that has been sharply critiqued nationwide for being transphobic and racist. It features a man in a red dress thanking Rauner for “letting me” use the girls’ bathroom, and another man, who is white, wearing a hood and a bandana over his face, thanking the governor for making Illinois a sanctuary for “illegal immigrant criminals.”

Liberals aren’t the only ones upset about Ives’s ad, though. “There’s no room in the Republican Party for racist, bigoted, homophobic candidates like [Jeanne Ives],” former state GOP chairman Pat Brady tweeted.

“I want to know why people are so offended by it. What’s so offensive about the ad?” Ives said in a speech to the City Club of Chicago Monday. “The ad is a policy ad. It’s an accurate depiction of the policies that Rauner put in place.”

In addition to bankrolling far-right candidates like Ives, Uihlein has also put $3 million over the last month into his favorite funding vehicle, the Liberty Principles PAC, run by talk show host and conservative insider Dan Proft. In total, Uihlein has given this committee $11.5 million.

Proft has publicly stated he opposes Rauner, a one-time ally. Uihlein also supported Rauner in the 2014 election, including donating $2.4 million to his campaign.

Rauner’s signing last September of a law that expands access to abortions was the final breaking point for many conservatives, and likely Uihlein. But an income tax hike, Rauner’s support of Chicago’s public schools, and his commitment to protecting undocumented immigrants all probably helped stir the opposition.

Uihlein’s generosity is not confined to Illinois. He is also muscling in on races in Missouri and Wisconsin: bankrolling outside groups backing Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley against Claire McCaskill in the former, and funding businessman Steve Nicholson, the likely candidate to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin.

A total of $2 million of Uihlein’s money was poured into the Missouri race through Club for Growth, while $3.5 million went to the Nicholson-backing Wisconsin Solutions.

In addition to the funds going either to candidates or PACs, Uihlein also uses a charitable trust to dispense his largess to conservative groups. The Ed Uihlein Family Foundation funds conservative media, education organizations and other think tanks.

This includes the Illinois Policy Institute, which received over $2 million from the Uihlein foundation in 2016, according to documents filed with the IRS.

Rauner has also funded both the Illinois Policy Institute and Liberty Principles PAC — but that was then, this is now. The two super-rich candidates are now political adversaries. As Rauner uses a little of his billions to try and buy back the governorship, Uihlein plots where to place his cash and push his positions from his North Shore mansion.

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