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One of the Biggest Organizations Helping Democrats Win Elections

The election of state supreme court justices doesn’t always garner national attention. But Judge Janet Protasiewicz’s win in Wisconsin earlier this year hit the spotlight with a campaign that shattered previous national fundraising records, and flipped the Wisconsin Supreme Court to the left for the first time in 15 years.

Judge Protasiewicz’s win against former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly on April 4 also set the stage for more significant Democratic victories in Wisconsin and beyond.

Republicans hold six out of eight Wisconsin U.S. House seats, but a liberal court majority will likely consider a lawsuit to overturn Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn legislative maps. Nicole Safar, the executive director of Madison-based law firm Law Forward said her firm plans to file a lawsuit once Justice-elect Protasiewicz is sworn in on Aug. 1.

Additionally, Wisconsin is expected to again be a pivotal swing state in the 2024 presidential election.

In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 0.7 percent in Wisconsin, or 22,748 votes. But in 2020, Joe Biden narrowly beat Mr. Trump by 0.62 percent, or 20,682 votes.

If election lawsuits are filed in Wisconsin after the 2024 election—like they were after the 2020 election—Ms. Protasiewicz will be one of seven justices to decide the case.

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Judge Janet Protasiewicz onstage during the live taping of “Pod Save America,” hosted by WisDems at the Barrymore Theater in Madison, Wis., on March 18, 2023. (Jeff Schear/Getty Images for WisDems)

“By electing Judge Janet Protasiewicz, Wisconsin voters have sent a clear message about the kind of state they want to live in,” the America Votes Wisconsin director and senior leadership team said in a press release.

“For the first time in 15 years, progressives will lead this highly influential court. The Badger State resoundingly voted for a court majority that will protect the fundamental freedoms of abortion and voting rights, the rights of workers, [and] the LGBTQ+ community.”

America Votes was crucial to Ms. Protasiewicz’s win. Its Wisconsin coalition said it knocked on more than 535,000 doors, made 678,000 phone calls, and, with its partner organizations, delivered nearly 2 million pieces of mail and sent over 4 million text messages.

The organization credits its efforts for helping to “deliver historic turnout and a critical progressive win in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election.”

The win in Wisconsin is just the latest victory for America Votes, and a stepping stone for what it hopes to achieve in the future across several key states.

And thanks to the backing of mega-donors like George Soros’ Open Society and the liberal “dark-money” behemoth Sixteen Thirty Fund, its political sway is substantial.

America Votes

Initially designed to get Democrats elected by reducing duplication and wasted resources, America Votes is a 501(c)(4) organization founded in 2003 by Democratic activists and liberal political operatives, including Ellen Malcolm, the founder of pro-abortion Emily’s Group, former Clinton administration official Harold Ickes, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, Partnership for America’s Families President Steve Rosenthal, and Andy Stern, the president of Service Employees International Union.

The organization was initially led by Cecile Richards, who went on to become president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Since launching, America Votes has become the “coordination hub of the progressive community,” according to its website. It currently has more than 400 state and national partner organizations that it works with to “advance progressive policies, win elections, and protect every American’s right to vote.”

Its partners include the American Federation of Teachers, the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Democratic Governors Association, the Environmental Defense Action Fund, the League of Conservative Voters, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, NAACP, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the National Education Association, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Sierra Club, and numerous others.

America Votes’ 501(c)(4) status means it’s a social welfare organization, which permits it to engage in “some” partisan activity, but that can’t be its “primary” purpose.

In keeping with that requirement, America Votes claims on its site that it carries out “non-partisan, education-focused programs to engage voters.” It also admits it focused on helping Democrats in 2022 to counteract the increase in GOP voters.

“GOP primary turnout sharply increased over 2018 in states like Arizona (+60 percent), Georgia (+98 percent), Michigan (+9 percent), Nevada (+42 percent), Pennsylvania (+84 percent), and Wisconsin (+52 percent),” America Votes President Greg Speed wrote on Medium.

“To meet the looming MAGA Surge, America Votes and our state partners are building on our successful Get Out and Spread Out the Vote strategy that worked in 2020. That election was a turning point for elections in America,” he said.

During the pandemic many states rapidly expanded mail-in-voting and early voting, which Speed said “opened up access to the ballot” and “put Joe Biden in the White House and gave Democrats control of Congress.”

During the 2022 midterms, America Votes zeroed in on Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, stating that they knocked on over 17.1 million doors in those states.

“Our coalition is executing in the largest, most-coordinated midterm voter mobilization effort we’ve ever seen,” Mr. Speed said in a press release. “Midterm elections especially are determined by turnout, and in 2022 America Votes is positioned to mobilize the largest, most diverse midterm electorate ever.”

Four days before the 2022 election, Emerson Morrow, the communications manager for America Votes, said the efforts employed by America Votes resulted in “over 32 million Americans casting their ballots already, including high numbers of first-time voters, young voters, and voters of color in many key states.”

The result, according to America Votes, was that progressives outperformed expectations in “nearly every battleground state.”

Money and Power

In addition to being the “coordination hub” for the progressive community, America Votes labels itself the leader of the largest coalition of progressive organizations. It says its coalition “represents the permanent campaign infrastructure built to withstand more than any single election”—meaning they work year-round to advance progressive policies, especially at the state level.

For example, America Votes details how during the “2018-2019 legislative session” it had teams of advocates working to influence legislators and election reform policy in Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, and New Mexico.

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Billionaire investor George Soros delivers a speech on the sideline of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, eastern Switzerland on Jan. 24, 2019. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

America Votes can maintain its considerable year-round power thanks to significant support from funding behemoths Sixteen Thirty Fund, the Open Society Foundation, and countless others.

In 2021, the Open Society Foundation, founded by George Soros and now chaired by his son, Alexander Soros, gave America Votes four grants totaling almost $29.9 million. One grant alone was $23.85 million and was one of the most significant single grants the Open Society Foundation awarded in 2021. Open Society hasn’t yet released its 2022 awarded grants. The Open Society Foundation didn’t respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment about its donations to America Votes.

In 2020, during the height of the presidential election, the Sixteen Thirty Fund gave America Votes nearly $129 million in grants—the largest grant awarded by the group that year.

Amy Kurtz, the president of Sixteen Thirty, said the grants to America Votes was one of the group’s most “important initiatives … to support their national efforts to expand access to vote by mail and increase voter turnout in communities of color and among traditionally disenfranchised people.”

The Sixteen Thirty Fund did not respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) holds the gavel close while listening to testimony by Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Javier Garcia Padilla on Puerto Rico's fiscal problems, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Puerto Rico and its debt crisis takes center stage in Congress as its governor testifies before a Senate panel about the U.S. commonwealth's financial woes and the demands of creditors. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

In a U.S. Senate committee testimony in May 2022, Scott Walter, the president of Capital Research Center, an investigative think tank, called the Sixteen Thirty Fund a “massive ‘dark money’ network,” that caters to “big campaign donors who want to have impact but hide their identity.”

Plus, Influence Watch, a watchdog group, notes that Sixteen Thirty’s donation to America Votes more than doubled its revenue from 2019, which likely facilitated an increase in America Votes’ own contributions to other organizations.

According to Open Secrets, a nonpartisan research group, in 2018, America Votes’ total contributions to other organizations such as the House Majority PAC, the Black PAC, and Planned Parenthood totaled just under $14.3 million.

In 2020, total donations from America Votes came to just under $60 million, making it the 13th “most generous giver” out of 39,467 organizations, according to Open Secrets.

Controversy and Aggression

In his testimony, Mr. Walter also detailed how America Votes, along with other 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations, helped the Voter Registration Project‘s “secretive, multi-year, $100+million plan” to turn out Democrats in battleground states. Influence Watch notes that the Voter Registration Project privately goes by the name “Everybody Votes,” but this “connection between the two names is kept a secret.” Everybody Votes is a voter mobilization group.

“Despite all the millions of dollars—and votes—and dozens of nonprofits involved, no mainstream media story on this project has ever appeared. Nor as far as we know, any IRS investigation,” Walter stated.

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Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Washington on June 28, 2023 (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

As part of its voter push in Nevada in 2022, America Votes sent out mailers that said, “Who you vote for is private, but whether you vote is a matter of public record. We will be reviewing public records after the election to determine whether or not you joined your neighbors in voting,” according to a post on Twitter by Jon Ralston, the CEO of The Nevada Independent.

At the time, local news outlet 8 News Now reached out to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, which responded, “While this mailer seems aggressive, it does not appear to meet the threshold for voter intimidation.”

Shaping the Future

On April 11, America Votes hosted its annual State Summit in Washington, D.C. with over 1,800 registrants from 47 states.

“During last year’s State Summit, we were gearing up for a fight. This year, we celebrated progressives’ historic victories and started planning to build on this success in 2024,” said Daria Dawson, America Votes’ deputy executive director.

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Americans vote at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens polling place in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 8, 2022. (Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)

“America Votes’ largest ever midterm mobilization effort was a key reason we did not see the ‘Red Wave’ so many pundits had predicted in 2022. Our partners knocked on more than 26 million doors and had nearly 5 million conversations with voters in the lead-up to Election Day,” Ms. Dawson said.

“We followed that up with another 5.7 million door knocks in Georgia ahead of the runoff. Just before the summit, we knocked on more than 535,000 doors and made over 678,000 phone calls in Wisconsin as part of our largest ever program for a Spring election. The results were undeniable: we stopped the Red Wave, and Judge Janet Protasiewicz won by more than 10 points.”

Ms. Dawson said America Votes plans to sway voters in 2024 by focusing on defending “reproductive freedom,” countering “MAGA extremism,” and building on what worked in 2022.

During the summit, Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Cecile Richards were given “progressive leader” awards.

America Votes did not return The Epoch Times’ multiple requests for comment.


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