Illinois billionaire attacking Ohio voters also funded Jan. 6 and election deniers

May 2, 2023 4:30 am

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Why is a fat cat in Illinois trying to influence lawmaking in Ohio that attempts to destroy the ability of citizens to amend their constitution? Good question. Kind of goes right to the heart of the phony Republican argument for making it near-impossible to pass citizen initiatives in the state: To protect the Ohio Constitution from meddling outside influences.  

Yet here we are. On the cusp of Ohio House Republicans possibly approving their legislative initiative — to change the century-old standard for passing state constitutional amendments from a majority vote to a 60% threshold — a super-rich guy two states away is putting big money on passage of that anti-voter measure in the Statehouse. 

You’ve probably never heard of this guy, Dick Uihlein. But the Chicago-area shipping supplies magnate and scion of the beer company “that made Milwaukee famous” is a right-wing sugar daddy. The German-American billionaire and his wife Liz are the Midwest version of the Koch brothers. 

A ProPublica report details the family’s generational history of pouring millions into far right causes and candidates. Uihlein’s father gravitated to ultraconservative political groups in the 1960s, including the John Birch Society, and supported politicians who embraced segregation. His son leaned into MAGA extremism.

Uihlein, who prefers to fly under the radar when he bankrolls campaigns, was exposed by the Daily Beast as one of the anonymous billionaires “in MAGA gear writing large checks” to groups trying to overturn the 2020 election. He was reportedly one of the biggest financial supporters of the Jan 6 rally.

Dick and Liz were the biggest Republican donors in the 2022 midterms. Period. The bulk of their largesse went to election deniers in the country or political action committees, including super PACs, that either directly backed their candidates or funded enterprises pushing false election claims. 

The heir to the Schlitz brewing fortune doled out a ton of cash to underwrite groups that promoted the Big Lie and supported some of the most notorious allies of the disgraced ex-president. It is this GOP megadonor — who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on state and federal politics in the past decade fighting taxes, unions, abortion rights, “transgender ideology” and critical race theory — who now wants to use his wealth against Ohio voters. 

The Illinois plutocrat is bankrolling a brand new super PAC in Ohio (that can spend unlimited amounts of his dough) to shut down our voice in the state. Uihlein funneled over $1 million to his political action committee and is its primary benefactor, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Helping the billionaire create his spending vehicle in our state — to undermine our only recourse around an undemocratic legislature — is a Cincinnati attorney “with a history of running dark money organizations for anti-abortion organizations and activists on the Christian right,” reports Well, there you go. Those conspiring to shut down the people’s views on abortion rights, fair legislative districts, higher minimum wage, commonsense gun reform, etc., are marshaling forces with an out-of-state, hard-right Daddy Warbucks. 

Uihlein’s deceptively named “Save Our Constitution” PAC started launching bizarre ads in southern Ohio. The targeted blasts aimed to pressure reticent Ohio House Republicans to approve an August ballot initiative that stifles the capacity of Ohioans to amend their constitution with a supermajority vote and punishing new requirements for ballot signatures. 

In 30-second videos, dark shadowy images of Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and AOC flash as a narrator urges lawmakers to “save Ohio’s Constitution from a radical liberal takeover” before it’s too late. (Wait, what??) The speaker warns that “the clock is ticking” and “conservatives across Ohio are demanding action” of key lawmakers (insert Speaker Jason Stephens name here). 

Republican holdouts have the “power to stop them,” the ads intone, (Pelosi & Co.?) and “vote with conservatives.” Or else. Uihlein’s super PAC threatens to keep score of GOP legislators tempted to stand up for Ohio voters. Its sparse website, which screams that “Ohio’s Constitution is under attack,” promises the PAC “will be scoring this vote” (coming up in the Ohio House on the proposed constitutional change.)

“We will ensure that Ohio voters in 2024 are informed about legislators who say yes to this…and those who oppose it or prevent it from being brought to a vote” (a rebuke to Stephens). Ironically, the webpage — funded by deep pockets pushing special interests — declares that “Our Constitution has been hijacked by special interests.” Talk about projecting.

What the GOP moneybags in Chicago is trying to do with his Ohio campaign to save our constitution from us is nothing short of a radical conservative takeover of power from every Ohioan, Republican and Democrat. In that world the majority no longer rules. White nationalism does. The extremist minority seizes power. Opposing views are silenced.

A Big Lie promoter buying his way into Ohio politics to subvert our right of self-governance is no champion of democracy. The corrupt Statehouse Republicans, on the verge of passing a sinister assault on Ohio voters via a sneaky summertime election, are not on your side. Neither is the right-wing rubberstamp in the governor’s office.  

The clock is indeed ticking. Pay attention. Or let a fat cat in Illinois call the shots on your life in Ohio.  



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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.