After the Capitol riot, Northwestern University said it was reviewing a vendor contract with Uline, the shipping supply company owned by right-wing mega-donors Dick and Liz Uihlein, who bankrolled a group with ties to the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the insurrection. A month later, the Illinois school says its probe—prompted by a letter from an incensed alumnus—is over and it’s still doing business with the company.
“The University investigated the concerns that were raised, and based on the information we have, determined that the Uline company did not play a role in the events at the Capitol,” a Northwestern spokesperson told The Daily Beast in a statement.
Dick Uihlein, a Schlitz beer heir-turned-packaging billionaire, and his wife, Liz, own and operate the homophonous Uline, a privately held packaging supplies company with distribution centers across North America, headquartered in Wisconsin.
Worth an estimated $4 billion according to Bloomberg, the Uihleins established themselves among the upper echelon of GOP donors, alongside the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, doling out tens of millions to right-wing causes, candidates, and PACs in 2020 alone. The donation tracker OpenSecrets ranked them as the fifth-largest donors to outside political spending organizations in the United States, spending over $65 million on conservative causes. A New York Times profile of the pair from 2018, titled “The Most Powerful Conservative Couple You’ve Never Heard Of,” included a quote calling them “the new Mercers.”
In December, Northwestern’s Procurement and Payment Services department established a pricing agreement contract with Uline, making them a “preferred vendor” for shipping and packaging-related supplies, with plans to incorporate their catalog into the school’s online marketplace, iBuyNU. (The University declined to disclose the terms of the arrangement or the date it was established, but lists it on their website under “Recent Contracts.” According to the spokesperson, the page is updated every four months and was last edited on Dec. 10)
The contract outraged at least one alumnus, who wrote to the university in February calling for a review, according to a report from the university’s student paper, The Daily Northwestern. The alum’s concern stemmed from a WBEZ Chicago investigation, detailing the mega-donor’s significant contributions to the political action committee of a right-wing group called the Tea Party Patriots.
In late 2020 and early 2021, members of the pro-Trump group promoted the “March to Save America” rally protesting the certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the election; the organization was among 11 groups listed on the Jan. 6 event’s website. Over the past five years, WBEZ found, Uihlein has given the group’s PAC some $4.3 million, including an $800,000 donation in October.
The Tea Party Patriots have rejected all accusations of involvement in the Capitol siege. “The attack on the Capitol was horrific, and we have voiced condemnation of that invasion,” TPP leader Jenny Beth Martin told The Daily Beast in a statement, noting that none of the group’s three sub-organizations had “spent any money on, or provided any organizational support to, or was a sponsor of the rally” that took place that day.
Founded in 2009 as part of the Tea Party Movement, the Tea Party Patriots encompasses three sub-organizations—a “social welfare” group called Tea Party Patriots Action, Inc., a non-profit called the Tea Party Patriots Foundation, and a PAC called the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund. Their activism has involved stalwart opposition to the Affordable Care Act, enthusiastic support for former President Donald Trump, and an embrace of unsanctioned COVID-19 cures.
In July, Tea Party Patriots Action organized a press conference to introduce the coronavirus conspiracy group “America’s Frontline Doctors.” In a video from the event, members of the group talked at length about a range of pseudoscientific treatment, including the Malaria treatment hydroxychloroquine, which was later embraced by Trump. The latter claim came from Dr. Stella Immanuel, the doctor profiled by The Daily Beast whose spurious beliefs about medicine include the palliative effects of alien DNA and demon sperm. The footage was widely circulated by Breitbart and on TPPA’s YouTube channel, until it was banned on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for misinformation concerns.
The Uihleins have been vocally critical of the pandemic themselves. In a rare interview with The Guardian in April, Liz Uihlein dismissed the virus as “overhyped,” claiming it was “not as rampant as the press would have you make it.” Just weeks earlier, The New York Times had reported that Uline had refused to let workers go home during the first week of lockdown, even as employees complained of crowded call centers and tightly spaced cubicles. The same day, the Times reported that a manager had told staff feeling “under the weather with cold/allergies” not to inform their co-workers. “Nothing’s really changed,” one worker told the Times. “It’s just nerve-racking.”
In November, the couple announced that they had both tested positive for the coronavirus. “After all these long months, I thought we’d never get it,” Liz Uihlein wrote in a statement to employees, first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Other beneficiaries of the Uihlein’s contributions include an Illinois candidate for governor, who ran a campaign ad featuring a caricatured transgender woman who wanted to use the bathroom, and Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), who has argued that women running for public office must be “within the authority of her husband,” that Islam “does not deserve First Amendment protection,” and that “blood moons” tend to take place on Jewish holidays, portending “world-changing events.” The Uihleins stood by Roy Moore’s controversial 2016 Senate race, even after he was accused of sexually assaulting underage girls.
The Uihleins did not respond to requests for comment.