Northwestern University officials said Thursday they were reconsidering doing business with the business supply company of conservative North Shore billionaire Dick Uihlein — who has deep financial ties to a group behind last month’s “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C.
Northwestern’s statement followed a WBEZ story detailing Uihlein’s long record of making large political contributions to the Tea Party Patriots. The Georgia-based group was among 11 organizations that promoted the Washington protest of former President Donald Trump’s re-election defeat.
At the rally, Trump made baseless claims of voter fraud in the November president election and urged the crowd of his supporters to “fight like hell” to keep him in power. A deadly, pro-Trump riot ensued at the U.S. Capitol, temporarily delaying congressional ratification of Joe Biden’s win and leading Democratic lawmakers to push for Trump’s impeachment.
In its statement Thursday, Northwestern officials said, “When we become aware of concerns about the social responsibility of companies we partner with, we review that information to determine what next steps may be warranted. The information is being reviewed and will be discussed internally to determine how best to move forward.”
A spokesman for the private university in Evanston said he could not provide details on contracts with Uline Inc.
The Daily Northwestern student newspaper, which first reported that Northwestern was reconsidering doing business with Uline, said a university alumnus urged administrators to cut ties with the company after seeing the WBEZ story about Uihlein’s ties to the Tea Party Patriots.
A spokeswoman for Uline referred all questions to the Tea Party Patriots, who issued a statement deriding Northwestern’s announcement as “the far left’s latest attack on the Constitution” and an example of intolerance directed at “a generous donor to free-market and limited-government projects and candidates.”
“Northwestern’s community would do well to spend more time studying the First Amendment and the freedoms it protects, and less time trying to cancel those with whom they have political disagreements,” the Tea Party Patriots’ spokesman, TJ Winer, said in the statement.
He also said the Tea Party Patriots viewed the attack on the Capitol as “horrific” and did not “sponsor any events on Jan. 6.”
But on the website for the rally, the Tea Party Patriots were among 11 groups listed as “participating in the March to Save America” as part of the “#StopTheSteal coalition.” Archived images of the page for the event show organizers urged a big show of force in Washington “to let the establishment know we will fight back against this fraudulent election.”
“At 1 p.m., we will march to the U.S. Capitol building to protest the certification of the Electoral College,” organizers wrote on the website, referring to the scheduled congressional vote to ratify the election results from the states.
Jenny Beth Martin, the co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, heavily promoted the event on her Twitter account, where she wrote, “I will be speaking at the #StopTheSteal rally in D.C. on Jan. 6. We must demand Congress to challenge the Electoral College votes and fight for President Trump!”
On the day of the event, Martin tweeted a photo of herself in what appeared to be a reserved, front-row seat at the rally, saying, “We will not allow them to steal this election!”
Winer, the Tea Party Patriots spokesman, said Martin was invited to speak at the Jan. 6 rally about her legal help for Trump in Georgia, but then was told that morning she would not be a speaker at the event after all.
The Tea Party Patriots also have ties to Simone Gold, a California doctor who faces federal criminal charges for allegedly participating in the Capitol riot. Gold worked with the Tea Party Patriots last year in a public-relations push to downplay the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and oppose lockdown measures intended to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Federal authorities arrested Gold on Jan. 18 in California and indicted her on charges of entering a restricted building or grounds, violent entry and disorderly conduct, according to court records.
Uihlein and his wife, Liz Uihlein, had contracted the coronavirus after Liz Uihlein said the media had exaggerated the risks of the pandemic.
Uline Inc. is based in Pleasant Prairie, a town in Wisconsin, just across the state line from Illinois. The Uihleins — who are among the biggest donors in the country to Republican candidates and other right-wing political groups — live in north suburban Lake Forest.
Federal election records show Dick Uihlein has contributed nearly $4.3 million in the past five years to the political action committee of the Tea Party Patriots, including $800,000 in October.
That made Uihlein by far the single biggest donor to the Tea Party Patriots’ PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.
The Uihleins also have been major campaign supporters of Illinois Republicans, including the now-defunct Liberty Principles PAC led by right-wing radio host Dan Proft.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.