One of the biggest megadonors fueling the MAGA agenda appears to have changed up his strategy, according to a Daily Beast analysis of new financial disclosures, scaling back his personal largesse while an associated dark money group’s spending soared.
The disclosures also reveal for the first time a direct convergence of arguably the three most influential conservative megadonors in the country—cardboard billionaire Dick Uihlein, investor Jeff Yass, and Leonard Leo, the deep-pocketed backroom architect of the judiciary.
Uihlein, founder of the Wisconsin-based Uline shipping empire, is among the most ardent and active backers of election deniers in the country. His $90 million in contributions during the 2022 midterms ranked first among conservative donors and placed Uihlein as the second-biggest political financier in the United States, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Previously unreported tax filings from two organizations tied to Uihlein, also covering 2022, reveal that the Illinois cargo magnate accelerated the political influence binge he embarked on at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency. In 2021, Uihlein grew increasingly active, particularly in election denier circles, funding Jan. 6 participants and underwriting conservative efforts to control ballot boxes nationwide.
The new disclosures extend those traditions, pushing Uihlein’s midterm political spending well above $100 million, with major gifts to anti-democratic initiatives as well as anti-abortion causes in 2022—the year the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, sparking a Democratic midterm wave.
But the documents, filed with the Internal Revenue Service this November and shared with The Daily Beast by liberal activist organization Accountable.US, show that while both organizations posted significant revenue gains, the group tied directly to Uihlein reeled in its spending, with another, more distant nonprofit picking up the slack.
However, that second group has also teamed up with two other arch-conservative financiers—Yass and Leo—in the first alignment between the three influential donors.
The Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, which Uihlein funds and oversees personally, raised $11.4 million, more than double its 2021 revenue, according to its 2022 disclosure. But the foundation only spent about $5.6 million, less than one-third of what it doled out the prior year. Its largest grant, an even $1 million, went to the American Cornerstone Institute, an organization run by Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Human Development Ben Carson and a sister group of the MAGAfied Conservative Partnership Institute.
The second nonprofit—the Uihlein-fueled dark money operation “Restoration of America,” also known as “Restoration Action”—hit the gas. That nonprofit raised $30 million in 2022, up $10 million from 2021, while reporting a nearly $10 million increase in spending, according to its filing.
Top recipients include anti-abortion megalith Susan B. Anthony List ($2.7 million) and Tea Party Patriots Action ($2.5 million), which helped organize the Jan. 6 rally. The gift to TPPA represents a nearly $2 million increase over the $600,000 contribution in 2021.
About $22 million of Restoration of America’s revenue came from one person. As a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, the group can participate in some political activity but doesn’t have to disclose its donors. However, that anonymous donor is almost certainly Uihlein, who has underwritten the Restoration of America network for years. (The group lists its headquarters in Downers Grove, Illinois.) The $22 million would also represent an increase of about $2.5 million over the group’s top 2021 donor, also likely Uihlein.
Caroline Ciccone, president of Accountable.US, said the moves suggest that Uihlein and his wife, Liz Uihlein, might be trying to “distance themselves from their own extremism.”
“For years, billionaire conservative megadonors Dick and Liz Uihlein bankrolled the anti-democratic extremist groups that brought us the Jan. 6 insurrection. Now, they’re dumping millions into groups working to abolish abortion access across the country and appear to be purposefully funneling even more through a separate nonprofit to distance themselves from their own extremism,” Ciccone said. “But the truth is clear: the Uihleins’ continued funding of the far-right’s most extreme causes is nothing more than a desperate attempt to force an unpopular, radical agenda on Americans everywhere.”
Brendan Fischer, deputy executive director of government watchdog Documented, told The Daily Beast that while the new filings deliver “no big surprises” on the surface, they also reveal an alignment between a trio of major conservative funders.
“These grants show how the Uihlein-backed group continues to finance election fraud conspiracy theories,” Fischer said. But he pointed out that the filing also discloses that Restoration for America has an affiliated organization, called Foundation for Fair Courts, LLC, focused on cementing conservative control in state supreme courts—and that group draws funding from both Leonard Leo and Jeff Yass.
In fact, Leo was behind almost all of the money Foundation for Fair Courts raised last year, in the form of a $1 million grant from his Concord Fund. In 2022, FFC put its donations into a campaign to amend the South Carolina constitution in a way that would give the conservative legislature control over the state’s supreme court. Earlier this year, Yass’ group, the Pennsylvania-based Commonwealth Leaders Fund, made a six-figure contribution.
“Uihlein, Leo, and Yass collectively control billions of dollars and have directed countless sums towards reshaping the courts, but I don’t know that we’ve previously seen their political operations directly collaborate,” Fischer said.
In October, The Washington Spectator published an investigative report detailing how those three men, among other conservative megadonors, are pouring millions of dollars into efforts to bend the American courts to the right, often by supporting the election of right-wing judges. The report noted Yass and Uihlein both had ties to the Foundation of Fair Courts, but the Leo connection is new.
The Uihleins first caught the media’s attention in 2018, but after the Jan. 6 insurrection the reporting intensified in line with their activity. However, Uihlein actually accelerated his outward political giving in 2022, and his foundation’s slowdown that year remains unexplained.
However, Restoration for America’s $2 million leap to Jan. 6 organizer Tea Party Patriots Action came after widespread reporting had detailed Uihlein’s direct donations to that group, via its super PAC affiliate, the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund. Those reports, starting in 2021, revealed that Uihlein had donated more than $4 million to the group since 2016.
Federal Election Commission data shows that Uihlein has not given to the super PAC since those reports came out.