Billionaire GOP donors who fought Evers’ public health measures contract COVID-19

The Uihleins attended the White House election eve watch party

Elizabeth and Richard Uihlein (Screenshot from the New York Times YouTube video
Elizabeth and Richard Uihlein (Screenshot from the New York Times YouTube video "Meet the Billionaire Couple Trying to Reshape the Republican Party")

Trump megadonors Liz and Dick Uihlein, owners of Uline shipping and outspoken opponents of COVID-19 prevention measures, have tested positive for the virus after attending an election night party at the White House. 

Earlier this year, Liz Uihlein called the pandemic “overhyped,” lobbied legislators to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ public health restrictions and backed a petition to have Evers removed from office. A rare (and brief) interview with The Guardian on April 23 introduced Uihlein by stating:

“One of Donald Trump’s most fervent billionaire donors is lobbying against strict stay-at-home rules in the election battleground state of Wisconsin, raising troubling new questions about how the president’s rightwing financial supporters may influence the US response to the pandemic.”

A family friend accidentally linked the Uihleins to Wisconsin’s reopen protests in a separate Guardian interview.

The couple were tested for the coronavirus after saying they were around others who contracted the virus, according to an email sent to employees of Uline that was obtained by Patch. The New York Times tweeted Thursday that Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski, who was also at that party, tested positive and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, political director Brian Jack and others in the administration also tested positive after attending the party. 

Uline workers

Employees received an email Thursday from the Uihlein Family, owners of the $5.8 billion company and big donors to Republican causes, thanking them for their efforts and saying that the “White House called upon us twice with huge orders” this week.

The same day, a manager at one Uline call center sent a note to employees.

“If you, or family members, are under the weather with cold/allergies — or anything aside from Covid-19,” it read, “please do NOT tell your peers about the symptoms & your assumptions. By doing so, you are causing unnecessary panic in the office,” the Times reported.

“After these long months, I thought we’d never get it. Well, Trump got it,” Uline president and CEO Liz Uihlein, 75, said in the email to employees. “If we had not been around people with COVID, we would not have been tested. We would have been back at Uline.” (No word on how employees reacted to that statement.)

The Uihleins reside in Lake Forest, Ill., but their company has a 200-acre headquarters across the border in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. According to the Patch article, “Some of Uline’s roughly 7,000 employees have expressed concerns that too few office and call center employees have been permitted to work from home without a strong case for a medical condition.” 

The email also laid out the company’s pandemic absentee policy. “Employees who test positive will be allowed to return to work 10 days from the date their test was collected, if you don’t have any symptoms. If you don’t have any symptoms, you are expected to continue working.”

The Uihlein email said the couple will return to the office on Nov. 19.

“Megadonors”

The Center for Responsive Politics lists the Uihleins as the second largest donors to federal Republican candidates in this election cycle, following Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The couple contributed nearly $66 million exclusively to Republicans. 

Dubbed the “most powerful conservative couple you’ve never heard of” by the New York Times in 2018, they are further described in the same  article: 

The Midwestern couple has joined the upper pantheon of Republican donors alongside names like Koch, Mercer and Adelson. They have spent roughly $26 million on the current election cycle, supporting more than 60 congressional candidates, working outside the party establishment to advance a combative, hard-right conservatism, from Washington to the smallest town.”

In 2018, the couple bankrolled first Kevin Nicholson in the primary, and then Leah Vukmir (after criticizing her) once she became the Republican nominee running against Sen. Tammy Baldwin. They were also among the biggest supporters of former Gov. Scott Walker and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

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Dick Uihlein has supported candidates who fight to preserve access to assault weapons and is a critic of LGBTQ and transgender rights, notably supporting the former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who said homosexuality should be illegal and was accused of sexual assault of multiple underage girls and lost his 2017 race for U.S. Senate.

In Oct. 2019, the Uihleins held a rally featuring Vice President Mike Pence promoting the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement in one of Uline’s large company warehouses in Kenosha.

Pence called the Uihleins “two incredible Americans,” at that event, praising “your leadership, your vision, your character” before stating that their company’s sales during the Trump administration “are up by 44%, profits are up 58%.”

Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.