September 24, 2015
The Natural Resources Board has decided to delay a decision on whether to sell several hundred feet of premium frontage on a northern Wisconsin lake to an Illinois couple that has contributed about $3 million to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s campaigns for governor and president.
The board’s surprise decision to delay the deal until at least February came during a meeting Wednesday after media outlets and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported earlier that the state had struck a deal to sell 765 feet of frontage on Rest Lake in Vilas County for $275,000 to businesswoman Elizabeth Uihlein. The lakefront land, which was valued at $238,000 and $384,000 in two appraisals, is adjacent to an 11-unit condominium complex that she owns.
Natural Resources Board Chairman Preston Cole said the Uihlein deal should be considered with a broader plan by the DNR to sell thousands of acres of state land, which was ordered by the legislature, in the coming years, rather than have it singled out for action by the board.
News of the land deal drew objections from a former DNR secretary, Democratic lawmakers and the Chippewa Indian bands, which viewed the agreement as a sweetheart deal for Uihlein. Critics charged that the proposed sale also failed to follow the protocol established in prior land deals by the DNR, including allowing public unput.
Uihlein and her husband, Richard, of Lake Forest, Ill. are millionaire founders of a national shipping and packaging supply company called Uline. The couple, which are longtime contributors to conservative and Republican candidates and causes across the country, contributed $2.7 million earlier this year to two federal committees set up to support Walker’s now-failed run for president in 2016. In addition, they have contributed $284,500 to Walker’s campaigns for governor and $220,000 to the Republican Party of Wisconsin since 2010.