Truth PAC Johnson Uihlein Hendricks
Sen. Ron Johnson (l) is being helped in his reelection effort with outside spending from the new Wisconsin Truth SuperPAC, funded primarily by billionaire owners of Wisconsin businesses who received major tax breaks because of Johnson: Elizabeth and Richard Uihlein of Uline (top right) and Diane Hendricks of ABC Supply Co. (bottom right). (Images from Uline and ABC Supply Co. YouTube pages and Shutterstock)

One, for example, had her taxes reduced by $36 million in just the first year of the new pass-through break championed by Johnson and other Republicans.

With Wisconsin’s primary nearly two months away, a new report highlights how Sen. Ron Johnson’s re-election effort is being helped by a new SuperPAC backed by three billionaires who benefited greatly from a tax plan Johnson pushed through Congress in 2017.

Wisconsin Truth PAC is primarily funded by Diane Hendricks of Beloit-based ABC Supply Co. and Elizabeth and Richard Uihlein, owners of Pleasant Prairie-based Uline, Inc. Together, they provided $3.5 million of the initial funding for the SuperPAC, a type of political funder created as a result of the US Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations to spend unlimited sums of money to independently advocate for and against the election of candidates.

The new PAC has been running ads in support of Johnson, including spending $200,000 in the past 30 days on digital advertising on sites such as YouTube and Google. Only a PAC tied to Republican operative Karl Rove spent more on digital ads targeting Wisconsin voters over the past 30 days.

The figures were compiled by FWIW, a weekly newsletter that looks beyond the traditional barometer of political ads on television, radio, mail, and print to see which candidates, campaigns, and groups are trying to reach voters on various digital platforms. On Wednesday, the progressive digital media company reported on the past 30 days of spending on Wisconsin’s US Senate race, where Johnson is running for a third term despite repeatedly pledging  not to run again.

Johnson’s Democratic opponent will be determined in the Aug. 9 primary.

The donations made by Hendricks and the Uihleins to set up Wisconsin Truth PAC are a fraction of the wealth they preserved after Johnson sweetened a tax loophole for so-called pass-through entities—companies that do not have to pay taxes on their profits since the profits pass through directly to the owners who then have to pay individual taxes on them.

The investigative news site ProPublica reported last year on how the tax cut—while technically described accurately by Johnson as benefiting most small businesses—delivers the majority of its tax savings to the wealthiest 1% of Americans by income. Hendricks, for example, had her taxes reduced by $36 million in just the first year of the new pass-through break, ProPublica reported.

Previously, Johnson has confirmed that his own wealth has doubled while in office—and the pass-through expansion personally benefited him when he sold his business—but he said it would have been much more if he hadn’t converted so much of his portfolio to cash.

The spending in support of Johnson is higher on YouTube and Google, while groups critical of Johnson spent more on Facebook and Instagram, according to FWIW. Majority Forward, a group focused on electing Senate Democrats, was the top spender over the past month, followed by A Better Wisconsin Together.   

Altogether, nearly $2 million was spent by various groups and campaigns for political advertising on digital platforms. The newsletter notes that while campaign spending at this point is usually geared toward fundraising from their own supporters, outside group spending is more focused on persuasion—creating a positive or negative image of a candidate well in advance of the Aug. 9 Wisconsin primary or the general election on Nov. 8.