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National political group receives $1.6 billion from Chicago donor with long history in Illinois politics

Tuesday, Aug 23, 2022 - Posted by Isabel Miller

* Lever News

An elderly, ultra-secretive Chicago businessman has given the largest known donation to a political advocacy group in U.S. history — worth $1.6 billion — and the recipient is one of the prime architects of conservatives’ efforts to reshape the American judicial system, including the Supreme Court.

Through a series of opaque transactions over the past two years, Barre Seid, a 90-year-old manufacturing magnate, gave the massive sum to a nonprofit run by Leonard Leo, who co-chairs the conservative legal group the Federalist Society. […]

As President Donald Trump’s adviser on judicial nominations, Leo helped build the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority, which recently eliminated constitutional protections for abortion rights and has made a series of sweeping pro-business decisions. Leo, a conservative Catholic, has both helped select judges to nominate to the Supreme Court and directed multimillion dollar media campaigns to confirm them. […]

Seid, who led the surge protector and data-center equipment maker Tripp Lite for more than half a century, has been almost unknown outside a small circle of political and cultural recipients. The gift immediately vaults him into the ranks of major funders like the Koch brothers and George Soros.

* Barre Seid was well-known in Illinois several years ago. James Merriner called him a “conservative angel” in 1996. Seid was one of an elite group of wealthy businessmen who funded conservative challengers against moderate Republicans, with limited success

Two Chicago industrialists, Barre Seid and Denis J. Healy, have sunk a combined $3.4 million into conservative causes and candidates in Illinois since 1989. Despite this impressive bankroll, candidates they backed were losers and organizations they subsidized are struggling.

In fact, Republican moderates regularly prevail over the party’s right wing in this state. You might think hard-headed businessmen would demand a better return for their money. In other states, conservatives have realized a payoff for their efforts. They’ve managed to take control of Republican organizations in Iowa, Virginia, Texas and South Carolina. So what gives in Illinois?

As elsewhere, conservatives in this state regularly divide along theoretical and strategic lines, but, as much as anything, personal rancor explains why conservatives can’t seem to top 40 percent of the Illinois GOP primary vote.

Seid and Healy, though far from the whole of the conservative movement here, stand at the head of a class of right-wing donors who consistently play politics at its most pure and personal. The practical give-and-take of mainstream candidates doesn’t appeal to them, nor do the tactics of professional campaign organizers. Thus, beyond nudging the GOP middle toward the right on occasion and nettling one another endlessly, Illinois conservatives have been unable to make any statewide electoral gains.

* An article published in the Washington Post in 1990 shows how Barre bet heavily against Secretary of State Jim Edgar and on losing Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Baer

Internal enmities that tore the Republican Party asunder in 1964 have reappeared here, with enraged conservative activists firing off a letter to Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater condemning his endorsement of the party establishment’s candidate for Illinois governor.

Atwater has broken precedent by putting the national party organization behind Illinois Secretary of State Jim Edgar for the Republican nomination against an unknown insurgent challenger. That produced this protest from 13 prominent businessmen and industrialists associated with the party’s right wing: ‘’Sending to Illinois a pedigreed pack to go after a plucky underdog is both comic and meretricious. This action will embarrass you and Republicans throughout the country, including us.'’

This view is shared by rank-and-file conservative GOP loyalists who consider Edgar a clone of Gov. James Thompson, finishing a record 14 years as a high-taxing, pro-union Republican. Whereas politicians of both parties see Edgar an easy winner against Democratic State Attorney General Neil Hartigan in November, grass-roots Republicans could sabotage the probable nominee. […]

Stunned Illinois conservatives went to an ally on the National Committee — Morton Blackwell of Virginia — to check it out. When he found out from Deputy Chairman Mary Matalin that the national party was truly endorsing Edgar, Blackwell told her: ‘’One gets on the wrong side of Phyllis Schlafly in Illinois only at your peril.'’

Then came the Jan. 12 letter to Atwater from the 13 businessmen, all URF and Baer backers, asserting the state’s economy and politics have been ‘’pillaged'’ by high taxes and that the signers ‘’would be affronted personally'’ by a national party endorsement. ‘’I didn’t pay much attention to it,'’ Atwater told us, though the signers include some of the state’s heaviest givers: Jack Roeser (Otto Engineering), Frederick Wacker (Liquid Controls), Barre Seid (Tripp-Lite), Dietrich Gross (Mercury Stainless).

Edgar won the three-way primary with 63 percent of the vote. Baer received 34 percent.

* Let’s look at some of Seid’s history of funding Illinois politicians…

    * As Steven Baer began his third-party bid for governor the Chicago Tribune reported in 1994, Seid used the United Republican Fund to back him, putting around $715,997 into the fund.

    * In 1998, Seid contributed $35,000 to Chris Lauzen, a former Republican member of the Illinois State Senate, when he unsuccessfully ran for Illinois comptroller.

    * Seid gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Paul Caprio Family - PAC to support candidates throughout Illinois.

    * Seid gave $12,500 to Appellate Judge Robert Steigmann’s failed run for Illinois Supreme Court in 2002. Steigmann wanted to “get buzz” and used the University of Illinois mascot in his TV advertisements, despite a protest from the college.

* The New York Times reported yesterday about how Leo’s trust received the funds to “avoid tax liabilities”

The Marble Freedom Trust could help conservatives level the playing field — if not surpass the left — in such nonprofit spending, which is commonly referred to as dark money because the groups involved can raise and spend unlimited sums on politics while revealing little about where they got the money or how they spent it.

The cash infusion was arranged through an unusual series of transactions that appear to have avoided tax liabilities. It originated with Mr. Seid, a longtime conservative donor who made a fortune as the chairman and chief executive of an electrical device manufacturing company in Chicago now known as Tripp Lite.

Rather than merely giving cash, Mr. Seid donated 100 percent of the shares of Tripp Lite to Mr. Leo’s nonprofit group before the company was sold to an Irish conglomerate for $1.65 billion, according to tax records provided to The New York Times, corporate filings and a person with knowledge of the matter. […]

Mr. Seid has kept a low political profile in recent years. His last federal campaign donation, in 2008, was to a Republican running for Congress in Illinois, and his name has previously appeared only once in The Times, in 1990, for lending a Republican candidate for governor of Illinois nearly half a million dollars.

* Background on Leonard Leo, now wielder of the unprecedented sum, from CNN

Marble Freedom is led by Leonard Leo, the co-chairman of the conservative Federalist Society, who advised former President Donald Trump on his Supreme Court picks and runs a sprawling network of other right-wing nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors, which are often referred to as dark money groups. […]

The massive donation instantly makes the Utah-based group one of the most well-funded organizations bankrolling conservative causes in the US – a staggering distinction for a group with zero public profile or even a website. In comparison, the single contribution is more than double the total amount raised by Trump’s presidential campaign committee during the entire 2020 election cycle. 

Robert Maguire, the research director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the donation “stupefying,” and “by far” the largest known contribution to a dark money political group. 

“I’ve never seen a group of this magnitude before,” Maguire said. “This is the kind of money that can help these political operatives and their allies start to move the needle on issues like reshaping the federal judiciary, making it more difficult to vote, a state-by-state campaign to remake election laws and lay the groundwork for undermining future elections.”


  1. - Amalia - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 8:37 am:

    great report Isabel.

  2. - Roadrager - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 8:43 am:

    Man gets to hoard billions for decades, no doubt using every tax avoidance trick in the book along the way, then gets to use $1.6 billion of it in a further tax avoidance scheme to fund a group overtly committed to subjugating democracy. The system, working as intended.

  3. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 8:46 am:

    Nothing quiet like seeing someone spend their whole life hoarding wealth and funding the political war against the working class, women, and minorities throw their wealth at a sincere effort to crush the rights of others on their way out the door.

    This might be the first time I’m aware of someone using their estate planning as an effort to buy their way into the Bad Place.

    The GOP didn’t get the way they are on accident. They have been a vessel for the plots of those who would seek to manipulate people into voting against their own best interests and the best interest of our society in the long run.

  4. - Downstate - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 8:47 am:

    Sounds like the George Soros of the right.

  5. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 8:58 am:

    Isabel, whew, great stuff.

    Including this very, yet seemingly “insignificant” context, which I really appreciate

    To that, and to the post,

    ===Edgar won the three-way primary with 63 percent of the vote. Baer received 34 percent.===

    Now, think on Darren Bailey, for a second in 2022

    Bailey received over 56%… in a 6-way race

    The Federalist Society is priding itself on its influence in the judicial branch and the real long lasting (federal judgeships are lifetime appointments) but now has reshaped a party where Edgar is the outlier, or if I’m real honest, an outsider, and Bailey is the norm, the real norm.

    That $1.6 billion is like a foundational type of donation to fulfill next level wants.

    “Jim Edgar” isn’t that want

  6. - Archpundit - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:04 am:

    —-Sounds like the George Soros of the right.

    I’m unfamrwith Seid’s efforts at promoting democracy and civil society internationally for decades. Arid seems more like the Kochs.

  7. - Arsenal - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:04 am:

    It took him until age 90, but dude lived long enough to see his weirdos finally start to topple moderate Republicans.

  8. - 1st Ward - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:06 am:

    “Man gets to hoard billions for decades, no doubt using every tax avoidance trick in the book along the way”

    Because the current Governor doesn’t do that already…. Google Panama Papers JB Pritzker

  9. - Moe Berg - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:06 am:

    Seconding others in complimenting this post, Isabel. Nicely composed.

    As Oswego Willy observed, your post put in further context how the extremists have finally won the internal GOP battles that have been playing out over decades.

    The truth is, the radical reactionaries will need billions to prevail so at odds are their ends with what the majority of Americans want when it comes to our country’s laws and its future.

  10. - ArchPundit - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:06 am:

    Excellent article Isabel. It lays out the way the far right in Illinois eliminated moderates through large donor dollars.

  11. - Seats - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:20 am:

    Any reason Seid wasn’t has not been a major donor for Bailey?

  12. - Norseman - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:22 am:

    Quite a legacy he’s leaving. A gift that keeps on working to create a plutocracy.

    Now whenever the MAGA GOP goes to their pavlovian trigger word Soros, journalists and Dems can respond with Seid.

  13. - sox11 - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:34 am:

    Barre bought all the old Spiegel buildings in Bridgeport in the late 1990’s for 1.7 million he sold most of them and put all that money into the Tripp Lite business to make it a successful business today. He also owned Tri Lite which made all the sirens and warning lights on the emergency vehicles all across the city of chicago.

  14. - Homebody - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:36 am:

    @Norseman: == Now whenever the MAGA GOP goes to their pavlovian trigger word Soros, journalists and Dems can respond with Seid. ==

    Of the Kochs, or the Mercers, formerly Adelson, or numerous others. Like most things with the right wing, their demonization of Soros is entirely projection for how much their ‘movement’ is massively bankrolled by rich elites.

  15. - Ron Burgundy - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:37 am:

    It’s truly heartwarming when someone accumulates a lifetime of wealth, and in their final days donates it to help feed and care for his fellow humans and make their lives better.

    Wait, he did what? Oh no.

  16. - Anotheretiree - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:41 am:

    30 years ago I bought Tripp Lite surge suppressors because of their reputation and made in USA label plus its a Chicago company. Last decade I looked at one and noticed they had moved to China. Felt that was another sign of our decline. Seid reminds me of the people who were selling scrap iron to Japan in 1940.

  17. - Sue - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:43 am:

    If you don’t like his politics fine. But here is a totally self made success story who built a business from nothing. He didn’t engage in any tax scams but followed the law completely. Sullivan and Cromwell documented this transaction and you can rest assured it is totally legit. Liberals donate billions and no one complains. When a conservative does it suddenly it’s fraudulent

  18. - Annonin' - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 10:07 am:

    We love all this ancient history. Hats off to Capt Fax and Isabel for pulling all this whack job spending together. Assume this all means the $$$ will get tossed into the state Supreme Court races.

  19. - Retiree - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 10:13 am:

    Just wondering if there might be a connection between this post and Isabel’s post yesterday regarding this falls judicial elections.

  20. - TinyDancer(KKASue) - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 10:17 am:

    Fell asleep last night reading about Robert Bork, Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society, etc, and their plot to take over the bench, the constitution, and the political economy (Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History.)
    This is starting to feel like being immersed in the plot of some dystopian movie.

  21. - Crispy - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 10:46 am:

    Thumbs up to Candy Dogood @ 8:46 a.m. for this:

    This might be the first time I’m aware of someone using their estate planning as an effort to buy their way into the Bad Place.


    I wonder if Seid will leave a bequest to the International Puppy-Kicking Society in his will?

  22. - TheDudeAbides - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 10:51 am:

    Well according to the SCOTUS this huge donation is nothing more than an exercise of free speech. Go figure.

  23. - Lurker - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 10:58 am:

    If this guy wants far right and someone running judicial, I think there is an unqualified guy running for the Illinois Supreme Court that will be getting a massive windfall soon.

  24. - ArchPundit - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 11:03 am:

    ===Liberals donate billions and no one complains.

    Most liberals are for campaign finance reform that limits the ability of billionaires to donate this much money especially to 501(c)4s that don’t have to report the source of the money. Liberals are not for unilateral disarmament though.

  25. - MisterJayEm - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 11:06 am:

    “a totally self made success story who built a business from nothing”

    Barre Seid’s business is called “Tripp Lite.”

    It has that name because it was founded by a man named “Graham Trippe.”

    Graham Trippe founded Tripp Lite in 1922.

    Barre Seid was born in 1932.

    I know that you people have some fantastical beliefs about the unborn, but this seems a little extreme.

    – MrJM

  26. - StateEmployeeThatIsNotInAFSCME - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 12:33 pm:

    ==shows how Barre bet heavily against Secretary of State Jim Edgar==

    And by default, Barre also bet heavily against Bill Cellini, Mike Tristano, and MSI.

  27. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 12:36 pm:

    ===And by default, Barre also bet heavily against===

    So you support the Federalists, Barre’s support of such a group…

    “Because Tristano”?

    That’s an odd way to look at this, but…

  28. - jim - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 12:36 pm:

    so the company, founded in 1922, is still worth today exactly what Seid paid for it years later? he didn’t increase its value by one penny? amazing.

  29. - StateEmployeeThatIsNotInAFSCME - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 12:40 pm:

    ==So you support the Federalists, Barre’s support of such a group…==

    Not at all, but just can’t help to remind everyone of the Edgar-Cellini connection.

  30. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 12:46 pm:

    ===just can’t help to remind===

    It’s an odd flex, given you don’t support the Federalists either.

    Feel better?

    The reality is this person supported a candidate that was rejected when running against the norms of the GOP, and now in death the norms of the GOP might be arguably further Right than when Edgar won that race.

  31. - Huckleberry1926 - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 7:10 pm:

    Weird how one side says “the money on the right is all dark” or the other saying “the money from the left is all dark”. This is an article from the left-leaning NYT. ALSO, let us not forget where the vast majority of union PAC money is sent, especially in IL (see Jim Sweeney and the “joint” PAC of 150 which is far from “joint”, see CAICA). It’s filthy on both sides bit seems to lean one way more than the other in IL

  32. - Huckleberry1926 - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 7:12 pm:

    Forgot the link!!!

  33. - BarryRumack - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 9:02 pm:

    Seid succeeded when Salvi defeated Lt. Gov. Kustra, and then Jim Edgar did very good commercials for Salvi. He truly would become a conservative version of Soros if Kathy Salvi wins the U.S. Senate in 2022.

  34. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Aug 23, 22 @ 10:19 pm:

    ===f union PAC money===

    If you can’t see the difference between one person giving a billion dollar campaign contribution vs. 250,000 people giving a combined several million dollars, then you’re blind.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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