Megadonor behind rallies: COVID-19 is “overhyped”

    hat saying vote with piles of cash money
    Campaign cash (Getty Images creative)

    Wisconsin and the Evers administration are badly mishandling COVID-19, according to Elizabeth “Liz” Uihlein, who gave a rare interview to the Guardian, published on Thursday.

    Uihlien and her husband have been dubbed the ‘most powerful conservative couple you’ve never heard of,’ but they are well known to Republican political insiders in Wisconsin as the billionaire donors behind Wisconsin’s Uline shipping and packaging empire. 

    The article in the British daily newspaper that also publishes a U.S. edition, states she is  “using her clout to try to force Wisconsin’s Democratic governor to relax stay-at-home rules,” by spreading her opinion that the pandemic crisis has been ginned up by the media.

    “It’s overhyped,” Uihlein is quoted saying. “And I don’t wish anybody ill will. You know I don’t wish that, but I think it hurts certain ages in certain places and largely in a lot of parts of the world. In the country it’s not as rampant as the press would have you make it.”

    A little more background on Liz Uihlein and her husband Richard “Dick” Uihlein shows how powerful they are in Wisconsin politics.

    The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) names the pair as”GOP megadonors” and “influence peddlers” for major donations between 2011 and 2018 that included $315,500 to former Gov. Scott Walker and $40,200 to former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. The couple, along with campaign groups they fund, contributed $11 million to Kevin Nicholson in the primary against Leah Vukmir as they competed to run against U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018. When Nicholson was defeated by Vukmir, they switched to supporting the former state senator who then lost to Baldwin.

    The WDC shows larger donations when federal campaigns are included: Elizabeth Uihlein, who lives in Lake Forest, Ill. but whose company Uline Corp. is based in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, is cited as contributing $4.5 million to Walker gubernatorial and presidential support committees with her husband. “Since the 2009-10 election cycle the couple has contributed more than $26 million to conservative and Republican state and federal candidates, committees, parties and outside electioneering groups,” WDC calculated in May 2016. 

    Last October, the Uihleins had planned to host a fundraiser with Vice President Mike Pence in their Pleasant Prairie manufacturing plant until he was required to cancel the event when President Donald Trump instead sent him to the Middle East. The couple are also extensive backers of Trump. 

    The Uihleins’ actions amid the current pandemic – from lobbying Republican legislators in the state to circulating a petition to employees to have Evers removed from office – come as protests have been organized against the Democratic governor and his Safer at Home order.

    Looking to identify megadonors behind the rallies, the Guardian contacted White House advisor Stephen Moore, a friend of the Uihleins who regularly compares the protesters against social distancing to civil rights icon Rosa Parks’ stance against racist segregation laws. 

    The protesters have said they are organized from the grassroots, including in interviews with the Wisconsin Examiner, but Moore said a “large Wisconsin donor” was behind the protests. When the Guardian asked if the donor was the Uihleins, Moore hung up the phone.

    However, Uihlein herself was more forthcoming about her actions. She told the reporter that they included lobbying Republican legislators and circulating a petition to fire Evers.

    In the interview with the Guardian, she also revealed that her sister contracted polio, comparing it to COVID-19, a comparison that a medical historian quoted after her in the article refutes as being wrongheaded on multiple fronts.

    In her interview with the Guardian, Liz Uihlein, who is 74, repeatedly compared the current crisis to polio outbreaks in the 1940s and 1950s – her own sister contracted the disease when they were children – and suggested Americans then had not ‘shut down’ communities to deal with those outbreaks,” the author writes.

    “It was a terrifically scary thing,” Uihlein told the Guardian. “It hit children and this virus doesn’t hit children. So I’ve got a different view on it. And I don’t think you should live in fear.” (The Centers for Disease Control disagrees on the potential impact on children.)

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    Wisconsin politics has been on the minds of writers at the Guardian quite a bit this election season already.

    Like many other outlets, it labels Wisconsin the “election battleground state” and from the content it is evident its writers were taken aback — if not shocked — by the April 7 COVID-19 in-person election. And has been writing quite frequently about Wisconsin democracy from its international platform.

    Guardian coverage has included articles titled: 

    Another recent piece of state news it thought was internationally noteworthy:  Republican state leaders sue Wisconsin governor over stay-at-home order

     

    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.