Liberal groups devote millions to blocking GOP election deniers – The Washington Post

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LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, one of the nation’s top political donors, gathered more than a dozen billionaires or their representatives over Zoom Friday to sound an alarm about the coming elections.

“MAGA leaders intend to use 2022 midterm wins to install Trump in 2024 regardless of the vote,” read a slide of the PowerPoint Hoffman presented to the group, which was obtained by The Washington Post.

He was pitching some of the nation’s wealthiest people on a doomsday idea that has become a growing obsession among the liberal donor community. Another slide, titled “How MAGA midterms can install Trump,” laid out a step-by-step hypothetical scenario: Republicans win statewide offices in key battleground states in 2022 and then change state laws in 2023 to give legislatures control over presidential electors. After the next presidential election, they declare votes from urban centers “tainted” and overrule the popular vote by sending their own slate of electors to Washington.

The goal of the presentation — described by someone familiar with the group who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations — was to raise tens of millions of dollars for groups that the PowerPoint described as being able to increase Democratic turnout, persuade swing voters to vote Democratic and “dissuade” Republican voters from going to the polls.

Pouring liberal money into the midterms to elect Democrats is hardly novel. What’s different about this new strategy is that a large portion of the 2022 efforts are actually aimed at 2024 — attempting to block Republican 2020 election deniers from gaining power and potentially upending valid results in a presidential election year.

The Hoffman-led strategy — born in the wake of President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election — has diverted some of the focus away from federal House and Senate races and toward battleground state governor and secretary of state races, election administrator contests and even ballot measures aimed at protecting ballot access and tabulation.

Some donors are funding candidates and state parties directly, while others are sinking funds into state-level groups that are pushing out direct mail and digital ads. Others are funding new opposition-research efforts, recruiting candidates for local election-supervisor races and building out online news websites and Facebook groups designed to drive people to the polls.

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The scale of the spending is hard to calculate because much of it has been routed through state-specific or niche nonprofit groups that do not disclose their donors. But people involved in the effort described multiple parallel efforts that could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Our theory starts with the electoral college map in 2024,” said Scott Anderson, the executive director of the Strategic Victory Fund, a separate group of liberal donors that has spent more than $450 million on election and nonprofit work since 2017.

This year the group has decided to spend money in only five 2024 battleground states, mainly by funding an array of state level nonprofit groups. The targets are Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nevada, where Democratic governors have so far pushed back on Republican efforts to change the way elections are conducted.

“The immediacy of this election for us is how do we have a veto pen and the ability to sustain the veto in those five states,” Anderson said. “The legislatures in those states have made clear that if they have a governor they will pass a whole laundry list of things.”

The Democracy Alliance, another liberal donor group, devoted much of its spring donor conference in Arizona on funding ideas to fight back on Republican efforts to change the rules of elections. Among the funding priorities this year: a ballot measure in Arizona that would expand voting access and prevent legislatures from appointing electors that do not follow the popular vote. Democracy Alliance donors are also funding an effort in Missouri to support candidates to the state Supreme Court, which could adjudicate election challenges in 2024.

“Democracy is the central issue of our time,” the group’s president Pamela Shifman said in opening remarks at the closed-door event, according to a transcript provided to The Post. “It calls us all to the field. It is why we are all here.”

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Run for Something, a liberal group devoted to recruiting more Democratic candidates in local races, has an $80 million target over three years for an effort to recruit and train candidates for election-administration posts in 35 states across the country. They have already helped about 200 candidates get through the primaries in presidential battlegrounds, said Amanda Litman, the group’s co-founder.

“You can influence quite literally who is administering elections,” Litman said, pointing to conservative strategies discussed on Q-Anon message boards and on former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s War Room podcast. “If we don’t do it we are absolutely going to regret it.”

American Bridge, a Democratic opposition-research group, started a new arm last year aimed at raising $10 million to uncover and distribute negative information about down-ballot state GOP candidates, particularly those involved in the effort to overturn the 2020 election result.

“That is definitely a sea change in terms of donor interest down ballot on the Democratic side,” said David Brock, the founder of American Bridge, an opposition-research group used across the Democratic Party. “The Bridge to Democracy PAC is one of the easiest things to raise money for at the moment.”

The Strategic Victory Fund has been sending much of its money to state-specific nonprofit groups engaged in a variety of organizing and advertising against GOP candidates. They include Progress Michigan, A Better Wisconsin Together, the Alliance for a Better Minnesota and Commonwealth Communications in Pennsylvania, which has announced a $6 million effort with Planned Parenthood and the Democratic Governors Association to oppose Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a state senator who urged his fellow state lawmakers to throw out the state’s 2020 election results.

“We are going to get people out there talking to people about this race,” said J.J. Abbott, the executive director of Commonwealth Communications, who said the effort will include attacks on his positions on unions, abortion and the minimum wage. “They are going to be aware of the threat that Doug Mastriano poses to democracy. But they certainly need to hear the full story about him.”

In Wisconsin, state Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler said he has seen a marked increased interest in Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s reelection effort because of the concerns over administering the 2024 election.

“The threat of a Republican who in 2024 attempts to complete what failed in 2020 has been an enormous motivator of volunteers for donors large and small, for people who want to fight for democracy, almost regardless of their politics,” Wikler said. “The significance to the entire country of the governor’s race has become an argument that resonates in every part of the state.”

Another group of liberal and bipartisan foundations plans to launch a nonpartisan effort later this year, dubbed the Road Map for American Democracy. The group, led by Deirdre Schifeling, the former White House advocacy director for President Biden, plans to fund efforts to prevent changes to election rules that could limit access or skew the result, fight back against harassment of election workers and counter misinformation around elections.

“We are generally preparing to defend our democratic system when it comes under attack this fall,” Schifeling said.

Hoffman’s effort — organized through a group called Investing in US, which involves a network of private donors — is one of the most aggressive. He declined to comment for this story through a spokesperson.

Among the proposed beneficiaries of his latest push is Good Information, a network of online news websites with names like the Copper Courier in Arizona and The Gander in Michigan that donors hope will encourage Democratic turnout in the midterms, the person familiar with the group said. The group is also looking to fund the American Independent, a project affiliated with American Bridge, that sends targeted material to voters before elections, as well as more moderate groups like Third Way.

The PowerPoint slides presented by Hoffman painted a blunt vision of the coming election season, noting that “Dems have only a long shot to keep Congress” and that Democratic odds of picking up governors in Texas, New Hampshire, Florida and Arizona are unlikely. It also describes the powers under the U.S. Constitution for state legislatures that determine the manner by which they choose presidential electors.

“States long ago delegated the choice to popular vote, but that is reversible,” one of the slides says. “Trump needs only 37 Electors to flip from 2020.”

Dmitri Mehlhorn, co-founder of Investing in US, declined to comment on the PowerPoint or the meeting beyond one detail: The PowerPoint describes a funding goal of working to “dissuade” and “reduce enthusiasm” for some voters.

“Patriotic Republicans should not be enthusiastic about voting for these dangerous MAGA extremists who have taken over their party,” Mehlhorn wrote in an email about that strategy. “We are comfortable saying so, as are principled Republican leaders.”


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