chicago politics

Chicago Businessman Donates Staggering $1.6 Billion to Conservative Nonprofit

NBC Universal, Inc.

A Chicago businessman, who keeps a very low profile, has made the largest reported donation ever given to a political nonprofit, with the total amount far-exceeding $1 billion.     

Barre Seid, 90, just quietly donated $1.6 billion to a group led by the man that many credit with helping to populate the Supreme Court with nominees during the administration of former President Donald Trump.

Seid has run the company Tripp Lite in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood for more than 50 years. The company makes surge protectors and other data centered equipment.  

Recently, Seid gave all of the company’s stock, worth $1.6 billion, to a political advocacy group.  

The money went to Marble Freedom, a conservative nonprofit run by Leonard Leo, who also co-chairs the Federalist Society.  

What makes such a move unusual is that Seid has essentially served as a kingmaker for Leo, making him “one of the most powerful people” in national politics.      

“The unprecedented part about this is that he gave it to one guy,” EJ Fagan, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says. “He didn’t donate to a foundation whose board is going to dole it out like a foundation does. Leonard Leo is going to be the one of the most powerful people in politics.”

Fagan also notes Leo is considered the architect of the Trump Supreme Court, with the Federalist Society helping drive the nominations of Justices Neal Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.  

Those justices gave the Supreme Court a balance that favors conservative positions, and ultimately led to the decision earlier this year to overturn the precedent set in Roe v. Wade.

“They can claim victories on Roe v Wade. They are the reason Roe v Wade is overturned,” Fagan says.

Locally NBC 5 Investigates discovered that Seid contributed more than $45,000 to former Republican State Sen. Chris Lauzen  With Tripp Lite located in Bridgeport, the business in recent years gave just $250 or $300 to the 11th Ward Democratic Party Campaign Committee, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Despite his wealth, Seid has largely flown below the radar until his massive donation.

“Anytime that you have an individual political operative that has well over a billion dollars at his or her disposal, it’s cause for everyone to be concerned,” Brendan Fischer, an expert on campaign finance, says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a portion of this money flowed into the midterm election, a substantial amount of the money will very likely also go towards building institutions (that are dedicated to) pushing U.S. politics to the right.”

The massive donation has also strengthened the calls of groups like Reform for Illinois, who have been advocating for more disclosure when it comes to political donations.   

“I hope this is a wakeup call, not just at the national level, but at the state level, to pay more attention to dark money spending,” Alisa Kaplan says.

Following the donation, Leo issued a statement to the New York Times.

“It’s high time for the conservative movement to be among the ranks of George Soros, Hansjorg Wyss, Arabella Advisors and other left wing philanthropists,” he says.

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