Billionaire GOP benefactor Liz Uihlein spends $220K on Rebecca Kleefisch in governor's race

·3 min read

MADISON – As Delafield's Kevin Nicholson gears up a run for governor, a billionaire GOP benefactor who is the wife of one of Nicholson's top supporters is also spending money to send former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch to the state Capitol's east wing.

Liz Uihlein, co-founder of the Pleasant Prairie-based shipping supply giant Uline, donated $200,000 in October to a Republican super PAC working to elect Kleefisch, according to campaign fundraising reports filed Monday.

The donation to Freedom Wisconsin PAC came after Uihlein donated $20,000 to Kleefisch's campaign in September — the maximum individual contribution allowed under state law.

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Uihlein and her husband, Richard, who live in the northern Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, are two of the top GOP donors in the nation and have individually donated nearly $150 million to elect Republicans since the 1990s, with much of that money spent since 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

More: Bice: How would you spend $88 million? Diane Hendricks and Uihleins gave it away in campaign donations in two years

In 2018, the Uihleins spent $10.7 million in support of Kevin Nicholson during the GOP primary in the 2018 U.S. Senate race challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Nicholson was defeated in the primary by the then-state Sen. Leah Vukmir of Brookfield.

Now, Nicholson in the coming days will announce his decision to enter the Republican primary to challenge Democratic incumbent Evers.

A spokesman for Liz Uihlein declined to comment on Monday.

Liz Uihlein was an outspoken critic of Gov. Tony Evers' stay-at-home order in 2020 and urged her employees that year to sign a petition to recall the governor. Kleefisch framed her September campaign announcement around criticism of COVID-19 restrictions.

Nicholson, who owns a consulting business and is a U.S. Marine veteran, is joining the gubernatorial race after Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson announced he would seek a third term. Nicholson had been waiting for Johnson to announce his 2022 intentions before deciding which statewide race to join.

More: Ron Johnson's efforts on Trump tax cut delivered millions in savings to billionaires who financed his campaigns, IRS records show

Madison businessman Eric Hovde, who spent millions on a 2012 unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate, also told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that he is "seriously considering" joining the Republican primary, which Kleefisch has had largely to herself until now.

Kleefisch's fundraising report shows the campaign raised $3.4 million since joining the race in September and has $2.6 million on hand. Fundraising reports are due Tuesday.

Evers announced last week he has $10.5 million in cash on hand heading into the race and reported raising $10 million in 2021 — the most a sitting governor has ever gathered before an election year, according to his campaign.

More: Tommy Thompson isn't ruling out campaign for Wisconsin governor after stint at UW

Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Liz Uihlein spends $220K to elect Rebecca Kleefisch as governor