If you don’t know Richard Uihlein, that’s by design. While the Koch brothers and even the Robert Mercers of the world have gained notoriety from the sheer scope of their archconservative efforts to reshape American democracy into something more to their liking, Uilhein, founder of the omnipresent business supply company Uline, has only recently become a big spender on the conservative political scene. And what a spender he is.
For years, Uihlein has given money to isolated races in the service of his anti-union, free-market and small-government views. But he has dramatically increased his giving this cycle, pouring $21 million into races from Montana to West Virginia to ensure more conservative victories in the upcoming midterm elections, Federal Election Commission records show.
The beneficiaries of Uihlein’s largesse include upstart candidates such as Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who has made preserving the Confederate symbol in the state flag a centerpiece of his campaign for U.S. Senate. Uihlein gave tens of thousands of dollars to support failed Senate hopeful Roy Moore (R) in Alabama, doubling down even after multiple women accused Moore of unwanted sexual advances toward them when they were in their teens, FEC records show.
He supports neo-Confederates and child molesters? What a broad coalition he has assembled.
But what Uihlein’s “largesse” demonstrates, more than any single ideology other than an obsessive effort to cripple American labor unions, is the extent to which the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling has reshaped the political landscape into something distinctly ominous and bad. Uihlein is a product of that ruling; his model of election interference would not exist without it:
Uihlein’s checks come in amounts once unheard of for individual donations to a single race. In addition to giving direct contributions to candidates’ campaigns, he donates to super PACs working to boost their candidacies and edge out primary opponents by blanketing local TV markets with advertising.
What that means is that in numerous races throughout America, this election season, you are hearing from certain candidates almost entirely because a single wealthy man willed it into happening. He is able to pump enough money into any single local campaign to insert his preferred candidate, regardless of whether that candidate had any constituency other than himself. A single wealthy man can swing whichever election he wants, anywhere in America, based entirely on his own whim.
That’s the model we’re now following. And it’s not just Uihlein, of course, but other wealthy Americans as well; from Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum to, say, Wisconsin’s Kevin Nicholson, becoming an American billionaire’s personal project is an attainable path to “public” office. No need to bother with retail politics, or building a constituency, or any of the rest of it; find a single man to write a sufficiently large check (albeit to a super PAC, to keep our thin veneer of dignity intact) and you can ride to instant contention in any race.
This is all made possible if a single wealthy benefactor, a single corporate or banking or fuckabout titan, can be found who prefers your positions to those of the other candidates. And, as anyone not a member of the United States Supreme Court can quickly glean, it provides rich potential rewards to any ambitious politician willing to change their ideological stances to best court their very own sugar daddy. There is no need to bribe a politician once in office; simply choose the politician most willing to interpret America through your own lens, and buy him.
That is precisely what America’s wealthy ideologues are doing. Perhaps they believe they are doing the nation a favor; perhaps they merely want to ensure that whatever the government does stays well clear of their own businesses and pocketbooks. But they are doing it, either way.