GOP megadonors spend big to reelect Ron Johnson after he saved them $43 million in taxes


Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein just gave nearly $280,000 to the Ron Johnson Victory joint fundraising committee.

In 2017, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) helped pass then-President Donald Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and insisted that it include provisions that benefited so-called "pass-through" entities, companies that pay taxes through the personal filings of their owners.

Among those who benefitted from the provisions were billionaires Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, owners of the Uline shipping supply company, generous donors to Republicans and right-wing causes.

The Uihleins are spending big to help Johnson get reelected.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, in the first quarter of 2022, Elizabeth Uihlein, the president of Uline, donated $266,300 to Ron Johnson Victory, a joint fundraising committee benefiting Johnson and other Republican Senate candidates.

Her husband Richard, the Uline CEO, kicked in another $10,800.

The $277,100 will be split between Johnson's reelection campaign committee, his Strategy leadership PAC, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Joint fundraising committees are a common tool that lets donors make massive contributions to help their favorite politicians and their party without violating campaign finance limits. The National Republican Senatorial Committee can use its portion of the money raised to assist Johnson and other GOP incumbents and challengers across the country.

The New York Times called the Uihleins "The Most Powerful Conservative Couple You've Never Heard Of" in a June 2018 profile and highlighted the tens of millions of dollars they had spent to elect far-right candidates to Congress.

In 2017, the Republican-controlled Congress passed Trump's tax cut plan — which slashed tax rates for corporations and the wealthy while actually raising them for 10 million families — without a single Democratic vote.

ProPublica reported in August 2021 that in the weeks before the vote, Johnson threatened to tank the legislation if the proposed tax cuts were not expanded to include more savings for "pass through" companies, whose business income is taxed as personal income of the owners. Desperate to get the bill through, Trump and the GOP leadership acceded to his demand.

ProPublica reported that confidential tax records it had obtained showed "Johnson's last-minute maneuver benefited two families more than almost any others in the country — both worth billions and both among the senator's biggest donors."

One of those was the Hendricks family, owner of the construction materials company ABC Supply. The Uihleins were the other. The Uihleins saved $43,534,878 in 2018 alone due to the new tax deductions. Overall, the news outlet found, the top 1% of American earners saved $24.8 billion in 2018 from Johnson's pass-through tax cuts; the other 99% saved just $18 billion total.

ProPublica also noted that in 2016 the Uihleins had given $8 million to outside political groups that helped give Johnson a narrow reelection victory over former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.

Jake Wilkins, Johnson's campaign communications director, said in an email that there was "absolutely not" any connection between Johnson's efforts and the Uihleins' campaign donations: "Using his extensive background and knowledge in Wisconsin manufacturing, Senator Johnson fought hard to make sure small businesses weren't left behind or disadvantaged under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. When you cut taxes for everybody, everybody benefits. He is tremendously proud of that achievement and will not be deterred by the Democrats and their media allies trying to distort his record."

A spokesperson for Uline declined to comment for this story.

ABC affiliate WKOW in Madison, Wisconsin, reported on Monday that Johnson had admitted that he personally benefited from the pass-through tax cuts and that it had been beneficial for his top donors.

WKOW reported that Johnson said, "When you start talking about taxation, if you cut taxes for everybody, everybody gets a tax break. And people that make more money get more dollars cut but that's our tax system. ... I did nothing for personal benefit or to benefit a few. I passed tax reform for the many."

Johnson, who has low approval ratings and faces a tough reelection campaign in November, said in October 2021 that he believes the top 1% of Americans already pay "pretty close to a fair share" in taxes — even though many of the wealthiest Americans pay at a lower tax rate than do middle-income families.

On Tuesday, in an interview with right-wing radio host Jay Weber first flagged by the progressive research group American Bridge 21st Century, Johnson complained that he is being criticized for securing the additional business tax cuts.

"By the way, it's being pretty effective, the lies and distortions," Johnson said. "It's going to be something I'm going to be battling probably the entire campaign, telling the real truth about this."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.