Two organizations quietly spent $32 million in last month’s midterm elections on organizing meant to combat election denialism and promote voting access, according to a progressive strategist behind the effort.
The Pro-Democracy Center and the Pro-Democracy Campaign put that money into 126 organizations across 16 states, with a particular focus on Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as toward a range of national organizations, some of them left-leaning. The effort also connected donors with key organizations, resulting in an additional $16 million investment, said David Donnelly, the initiative’s lead strategist. The Pro-Democracy Center and the Pro-Democracy Campaign did not directly spend on specific candidates or buy advertising, he said. The initiative did, however, engage around retention of Supreme Court justices in Arizona, he said.
Mr. Donnelly said the groups invested in organizations that focused in particular on turning out young voters and people of color, two key parts of the Democratic coalition, and often recommended messages about threats to freedom and democracy.
“If you roll back the clock to the beginning of this year, there was a lot of ink and pixels spilled about the possibility of democratic collapse, and all that didn’t happen,” Mr. Donnelly said. A number of Republicans who made names for themselves as election deniers lost high-profile races. “It’s not the full story, but you can’t understand why without lifting up some of the groups that were doing organizing and mobilizing in communities of color and among young people.”
Mr. Donnelly would not name the donors behind the groups, which as nonprofits are not required to disclose their contributors. Politico first reported on the efforts from Pro-Democracy Center and Pro-Democracy Campaign on Monday.
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The effort was among many campaigns that activated around democracy and voting issues after Donald J. Trump and his associates tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
On the other side, countless groups popped up at the state and local level to promote election conspiracy theories and amplify false claims about the legitimacy of elections. The groups were organized into several overlapping coalitions, in some cases with the involvement of Trump allies. While it is difficult to determine how much money was spent on those efforts, one prominent supporter, Mike Lindell, has said he spent millions of his own money.
Pro-Democracy Center and Pro-Democracy Campaign teamed with a long list of organizations including Planned Parenthood affiliates, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund in Arizona and Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group aligned with Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who lost her bid for governor in Georgia.
The initiative says it spent about $6 million aiding national groups, $5.4 million in Arizona, $3 million in Michigan and $2.6 million in Wisconsin, all states where Republicans nominated candidates who spread doubt about Mr. Trump’s defeat.
The work the initiative funded varied by state, but included supporting organizations that focused on voter registration and turnout efforts, groups that backed a ballot measure that expanded voting access in Michigan, as well as one in Arizona that was kept off the ballot, and those that funded “souls to the polls” events in Florida.
The initiative also funded national and local groups that provided election observers and helped support hotlines where voters called in to report issues, as well as groups doing ballot curing, which means encouraging voters to fix problems with their ballots.
“After 2020 there was a lot of consternation around the election and the election results, so we wanted to build a comprehensive and effective election protection program proactively,” said Micheal Davis, executive director of the group Promote the Vote in Michigan, a voting rights coalition that received a $250,000 grant from the Pro-Democracy Campaign to promote its election protection work. The group was also heavily involved in promoting a successful constitutional amendment that, among other things, mandated at least nine days of early voting and increased access to voting by absentee ballot.
Mr. Donnelly said there were “roughly 15” donors behind the $32 million effort, including multiple people within families. He described the donors as having a range of ideological views, although without a list of donors, that is difficult to verify independently.
“One thing Trump and election deniers have done is broaden the ideological spectrum of those who care about walking us back from the precipice,” he said.
Mr. Donnelly said the two groups were already gearing up for 2023 and 2024. In Minnesota, for example, the initiative is supporting a local coalition that is working to press a suite of new proposals to expand voting access, including automatic voter registration.
“We’ll take our cues from what state leaders believe is possible,” he said.
Alexandra Berzon contributed reporting.
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