Uihlein Goes to Bat for Ron Johnson in Wisconsin Senate Race

TV viewers in Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay, may have noticed that the 2016 election for U.S. Senate is getting underway, despite the fact that the election is over a year away. Russ Feingold is challenging incumbent Senator Ron Johnson, widely considered vulnerable, and outside groups are signaling they are willing to stand with Johnson.

An issue ad promoting Sen. Johnson and his opposition to Pres. Obama's Iran deal airing in Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay, reportedly cost $500,000.

The ad is produced by Restoration PAC, a political action committee registered with the Federal Elections Committee (FEC). The pro-military, anti-tax PAC also wants to get rid of the federal Department of Education. Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigated the PAC and found that at this point it is "little more than one donor: Richard Uihlein." Uihlein contributed "91% of the $330,766" that the group has reported to the FEC this year reported Bice.

Other Uihlein Contributions to Walker

Uihlein is CEO and president of Uline Inc., a distributing company headquartered in Pleasant Prairie, WI. In 2007, Mary Burke--who was then the Commerce Secretary under Gov. Jim Doyle--offered Uline $22 million in payroll tax credits and other incentives for the company to move its headquarters and a distribution center to Wisconsin. In 2014, Uihlein contributed over $4.6 million to right-wing Super PACs which placed him in the top ten nationally along with the Kochs and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. In Wisconsin this year, Uihlein and his wife, Elizabeth, who live in Illinois, have already contributed $2.5 million to the Unintimidated PAC supporting Gov. Scott Walker's run for president and another $200,000 to Our American Revival, a nonprofit 527 group also supporting Walker's presidential bid. The amount of support the Uihleins are contributing is likely larger than the amounts reported here as they have contributed handsomely to Club for Growth in the past, a group that just last week announced that it will spend $2.5 million in supporting Johnson and opposing Feingold.

The Wisconsin branch of the Club was a key party in the Wisconsin "John Doe" investigation into potentially illegal coordination between dark money groups and the Walker recall during the 2011-2012 recalls. A conflicted Wisconsin Supreme Court closed down the investigation in July, but prosecutors may be appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Express advocacy groups and issues ad groups will flood into this race from both sides of the aisle. Feingold has asked Johnson to take a "Badger Pledge" to discourage the spending, but so far has gotten no response.

David Armiak

David Armiak is research director with the Center for Media and Democracy. David joined CMD in 2015, has conducted extensive investigations on dark money, corporate corruption, and right-wing networks, and is responsible for filing and analyzing hundreds of public records requests every year. David has a strong research interest in social movements and political power, and has delivered many talks on the subject.