Fair Fight, the organization founded by Stacey Abrams to fight for voting rights, has issued a report documenting the Republican strategy to suppress voting. For all of us committed to voting rights, it makes for chilling reading. In the coming weeks, Together for 2020 will be sharing information from Fair Fight on the best use of remote volunteers to combat voter suppression in swing states and to work for voting rights. It is important to read the report to understand what we are up against.
Traditionally, it’s always been republicans suppressing votes in places…in 2020 that’s going to be markedly different. It’s going to be a much bigger program. Much more aggressive program, a better-funded program.”–Justin Clark
April 23, 2020
From: Fair Fight Action
Re: The GOP 2020 Voter Suppression War Machine Overview
Ahead of the 2020 elections, the GOP has launched a multi-million dollar voter suppression strategy to recruit 50,000 poll watchers, reshape state and local election rules, resist the expansion of voting rights, and amplify anti-voting rhetoric nationwide. This is a direct consequence of a 2018 federal court ruling that lifted the ban preventing the RNC from engaging in poll watching and other “ballot security” activities. As a result, republican committees and soft dollars will be used to significantly expand the budget, institutional knowledge and coordination of “election monitoring” efforts for the first time in nearly 40 years.1 Senior officials from the Trump Campaign, the RNC and the Federalist Society will lead this effort with substantial support from various anti-voting, nonprofit organizations. The plan is detailed below.
The GOP nationwide voter suppression strategy is led by Justin Clark, Michael Roman, and Leonard Leo. The architect of this strategy is Justin Clark, Director of Election Day Operations at the Trump Victory Campaign.2 Clark’s counterpart at the RNC is Michael Roman, who oversees Election Integrity and Poll Watching Efforts.3 Leonard Leo is the Chair of the Federalist Society and the individual behind the dark money group, Honest Elections Project, a nonprofit organization created to finance several core components of this plan.4,5 Several anti-voting groups, such as True the Vote, Judicial Watch, and the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), provide substantial support to every facet of this strategy.
The “consent decree” prevented Republican presidential campaigns from using RNC funds to finance poll-watching efforts, which severely limited the size of these programs in the past. The 1982 consent decree was a court-enforced agreement that prevented the RNC from conducting “ballot security” activities, such as challenging eligibility at the polls, without permission from a federal court. The New Jersey lawsuit that produced the agreement was filed after the RNC’s “National Ballot Security Task Force” systematically intimidated and disenfranchised nonwhite voters at the polls.6 Justin Clark detailed the significance of the consent decree ending at a 2019 RNLA event saying, “Being able to use the RNC to create a coordination loop with the NRSC and the NRCC…It’s a huge, huge, huge, huge, deal.” 1
Post consent decree, the GOP will invest an estimated $50 million minimum to execute a four-part election monitoring plan. This is a conservative estimate using nonprofit 990 reports and modeling financial behavior based on past operational needs and likely strategic trajectory. The Trump re-elect team has pledged to spend “much more than” $10 million on election-related lawsuits.7 We estimate the total Trump/RNC investment in litigation and poll watching to be approximately $16 million.8 In addition, Leonard Leo pledged to spend “tens of millions” of dollars this cycle, mainly funneled through Honest Elections Project.5 Given the size of his previous campaigns to confirm supreme court justices, we expect Honest Elections to invest $25 million in this effort.9 After a review of past financial disclosures, the combined investment into poll watching, litigation, and message amplification by anti-voting groups is likely to reach a minimum of $8.5 million.
Part 1: A Nationwide Poll Watching Program, Fully Integrated Into Field and Political Operations, and Supported By Third Party Groups. The RNC/Trump campaign will recruit and train 50,000 poll watchers by fall 2020 early vote.10 In addition, the campaign will have 18 “Election Day Operation Directors” on the ground in 15 targeted states by April 2020: AZ, CO, FL, GA, ME, MI, MN, NC, NH, NM, NV, OH, PA, VA and WI. Poll watching and early vote monitoring will be a paid and volunteer organizing opportunity, fully integrated into the Trump Victory Leadership Initiative (TVLI). This integration will create a “force multiplier” effect for recruitment goals. The program will be statewide and focused on mid-sized cities with large rural surroundings–where the marginal vote impact will be greatest.1 The campaign’s goal to “cover every polling place in the country,” will require substantial support from third-party anti-voting groups.11 For example, True the Vote, a prominent anti-voting poll-watching group, is actively recruiting law enforcement and veterans to become poll watchers with alarming rhetoric recently documented by the Intercept.12 These groups are also creating contingency plans for the coronavirus such as recruiting members to join absentee ballot review boards.13
Part 2: A Federal, State, and Local Effort to Reshape Election Rules, Regulations and Policy. The Trump re-elect team is directly engaged with local election boards, secretaries of state and state party leaders to reshape election policy.10 Politico reported that Trump campaign officials are working behind the scenes to limit absentee voting policy changes across Pennsylvania, Georgia and other states.14 We are also seeing states like Georgia and West Virginia launch ballot “fraud” task forces in conjunction with the Trump administration. 15,16 In Florida, the GOP-led legislature is advancing a bill to loosen poll watcher requirements.17 There is also evidence of a concerted local effort to restrict ballot count/recount rules, change ballot review board policy and shift election operations powers to individuals and boards more aligned with the Trump re-elect team.10 These political efforts are undergirded by a nearly $18 million investment in state parties this cycle.18
Part 3: A $15.5 Million Nationwide Election Litigation Strategy. The Trump re-elect team is engaged in numerous state and federal court battles across the country to limit the expansion of voting rights.19 The campaign is also providing litigation financing directly to state parties.14 We estimate the minimum spend on litigation by the campaign alone this cycle will be $11.5 million.20 Third-party anti-voting groups, such as True the Vote, Honest Elections Project, PILF and Judicial Watch, either launched litigation threats or filed lawsuits/intervened in at least 13 states and will likely spend a minimum of $4 million on election legal activity this cycle.21 There is a substantial overlap of the counsel for True the Vote, Honest Elections Project, and the RNC. In particular, Jason Torchinsky, Will Consovoy, and James Bopp continue to represent these anti-voting groups while on the RNC payroll.22, 23, 24, 25 These attorneys have a long history of dismantling civil rights.26, 27, 28
Part 4: $29 Million Message Amplification Strategy for Trump, Honest Elections Project, and Others. Donald Trump is a core component of the voter suppression strategy and is literally written into the campaign’s plan to amplify ‘voter fraud’ issues that may have previously gone unreported. By amplifying these issues, Trump can “short-circuit media attention,” recruit poll watchers, and amplify the GOP’s preferred election policy.1 The paid media budget to amplify voter fraud and other anti-voting messaging is expected to be carried by Honest Elections Project and Judicial Watch. We estimate these groups will spend $25 million and $4million respectively.9, 21 The Honest Elections Project previewed this media strategy when they launched a $250,000 anti-voting TV + digital campaign within days of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision to hold in-person elections.29
Voter suppression is a core strategic imperative for the GOP. The end of the consent decree has enabled the GOP to fund the largest and most coordinated voter suppression strategy in nearly 40 years. Wisconsin was just one example of the lengths to which the GOP will go to prevent voters, especially black and brown voters, from casting a ballot fairly.30 We must head into the 2020 elections with a clear-eyed understanding of the GOP’s strategy and develop, finance, and execute a nationwide plan to ensure every eligible American can vote and have their vote counted without fear, intimidation, or undue burden.
1 Justin Clark, WI RNLA Event, Audio, 11/21/2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=am0egba-KNQ 2 Justin Clark, RNLA Bio, 10/23/2019. https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:X8KAyTv2OoQJ: https://www.rnla.org/rnlawisconsin+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us 3 Michael Roman, FEC, Last Accessed: 4/20/2020. https://www.fec.gov/data/disbursements/?data_type=processed&committee_id= C00003418&committee_id=C00580100&recipient_name=michael+roman&recipient_name=mr+a+llc&two_year_transaction_period=20 20&min_date=01%2F01%2F2019&max_date=12%2F31%2F2020 4 Leonard Leo, Axios, 1/7/2020. https://www.axios.com/leonard-leo-crc-advisors-federalist-society-50d4d844-19a3-4eab-af2b -7b74f1617d1c.html?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=twsocialshare&utm_campaign=organic 5 Honest Elections Project is a fictitious name for “The 85 Fund,” Virginia SCC, Last Accessed: 4/22/2020. https://cis.scc.virginia.gov/ EntitySearch/BusinessInformation?businessId=5040&source=FromEntityResult&isSeries=False 6 Consent Decree, New Republic, 3/30/2020. https://newrepublic.com/article/156861/republican-voter-suppression-tactics-trump-2020 7 Trump/RNC Pledge, NPR, 4/17/2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/04/17/836671427/coronavirus-likely-to-supercharge-election- Year-lawsuits-over-voting-rights 8 $16 million =$11.5 million for election litigation and $4.5 million for poll watching. Does not include NRCC/NRSC legal expenses. 9 Leonard Leo, Washington Post, 5/21/2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/leonard-leo-federalists -society-courts/ 10 Justin Clark, CPAC, 2/28/2019. https://cpac.conservative.org/protecting-the-ballot-box-defeating-the-lefts-voter-fraud-machine/ 11 Election Day Team, ArmyForTrump.com, Last Accessed: 4/23/2020. https://www.armyfortrump.com/forms/election-day-team 12 True the Vote, The Intercept, 4/11/2020. https://theintercept.com/2020/04/11/republican-poll-watchers-vote-by-mail-voter-fraud/ 13 True the Vote, YouTube, 3/23/2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iq0XMKU-7MY&feature=youtu.be 14 Policy Changes/State Party Financing, Politico, 4/03/2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/03/trump-2020- election-legal-battle-coronavirus-162152 15 Georgia Fraud Task Force, AJC, 4/6/2020. https://www.ajc.com/news/state--regional-govt--politics/new-georgia-elections-chief- launches-effort-against-mail-voting-fraud/uKcFoPbbLnFC0A4nXihaLI/ 16 West Virginia Fraud Task Force, The Record Delta, 4/15/2020. https://therecorddelta.com/article/united-states-attorneys- stuart-and-powell-launch-statewide-election-fraud-task-force 17 Florida Poll Watcher Bill, Sun Sentinel, 2/21/2020. https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-com-election-mischief-by- florida-republicans-20200221-btw42xcy2vbdtpnfoz4qz7vf2i-story.html 18 RNC Party Transfers, FEC.gov, Last Accessed: 4/22020. https://www.fec.gov/data/disbursements/?data_type=processed&committee _id=C00003418&committee_id=C00580100&two_year_transaction_period=2020&min_date=01%2F01%2F2019&max_date=12%2F31 %2F2020&line_number=F3X-22 19 RNC Fighting Voting Rights, Washington Post, 3/5/2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/05/why-trump-rnc- are-spending-10-million-fight-democrats-voting-rights-lawsuits/ 20 $11.5 million estimate removed any legal expense not directly tied to election litigation. Assumed at least $1m in state financing. 21 $4 million based on 990s. True the Vote=$1.5 million, PILF=$1.5 million, Judicial Watch $1M (although JW yearly revenue over $72 million, most spending goes to ‘public education,’ not lawsuits. $4M budgeted for JW media. Substantial upside risk to both numbers). 22 Consovoy, Torchinsky, Bopp, FEC.gov, Last Accessed: 4/22/2020. https://www.fec.gov/data/disbursements/?data_type=processed& committee_id=C00003418&committee_id=C00580100&recipient_name=bopp&recipient_name=consovoy&recipient_name=holtzman&r ecipient_name=torchinsky&two_year_transaction_period=2020&min_date=01%2F01%2F2019&max_date=12%2F31%2F2020 23 Consovoy/Honest Elections, HonestElections.org, Last Accessed: 2/26/2020. https://www.honestelections.org/pr1/ 24 Torchinsky/Honest Elections Project, Justia.com, 3/18/2020. https://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/wisconsin/ wiwdc/3:2020cv00249/45522/176/3.html 25 Bopp/True the Vote, Breitbart, 4/3/2020. https://www.breitbart.com/2020-election/2020/04/03/voter-integrity-group-joins-legal- challenge-to-new-mexico-mail-in-election/ 26 Consovoy-Anti Civil Rights, Washington Post, 8/22/2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/coming-to-trumps- defense-an-unconventional-lawyer-for-an-unconventional-president/2019/08/21/f877214a-9382-11e9-aadb-74e6b2b46f6a_story.html 27 Torchinsky-Anti Civil Rights, AAPC, Last Accessed: 4/13/2020. https://theaapc.org/events-register/annual-pollie-conference/ 2017-pollie-awards-conference/speakers/jason-torchinsky/ 28 Bopp--Anti Civil Rights, Politico, 6/22/2016. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/06/supreme-court-scotus- citizens-united-money-campaigns-political-new-fec-next-law-suit-213980 29 Honest Elections Ad, Washington Examiner, 4/13/2020. https://washex.am/3cKzWmc 30 Wisconsin voter suppression 4/13/2020. https://to.pbs.org/3bw2u2G