|By Meara Geraty
Digital Content Coordinator, RepresentUs
As of mid-May, 2021, 394 bills attacking our democracy have been introduced in 45 states around the country, and 25 have already passed into law. From Georgia to Texas to Montana, an outright assault on your right to vote is taking place.
Like so much in our politics, it’s funded and driven by big-money special interests.
An assault on voting access around the country
You’ve probably seen the headlines: Georgia governor Kemp signed an egregious anti-voter bill into law earlier this year. Backlash ensued quickly, with even major corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta, both headquartered in Atlanta, coming out against the law.
And for good reason: Georgia’s new law is a blatant attack on the right to vote. It severely restricts access to voting by mail, gives partisan politicians power over election administration, and infamously, criminalizes giving food and water to voters waiting in line.
But Georgia isn’t alone.
Around the country, 24 more anti-democracy bills have been passed into law this session, including in Iowa, Arkansas, and Utah. These laws restrict access to voting by mail, enact damaging and unnecessary voter ID laws, limit early and in-person voting, roll back access to registration and more.
It’s not an accident. It’s an explicit attack funded and influenced by special interests that stand to gain when voters lose, and supported by partisan politicians who only want to ensure their party’s control — regardless of what voters want.
Meet the dark money group behind the anti-voter laws
“Iowa is the first state that we got to work in, and we did it quickly and we did it quietly... We helped draft the bills... Honestly, nobody even noticed. My team looked at each other and we’re like, ‘It can’t be that easy.’”
At a private meeting attended by big-money donors last month, Jessica Anderson, the executive director of the Heritage Foundation’s advocacy arm, Heritage Action for America, boasted about their massive, secretive campaign to draft and pass restrictive voting legislation.
“We’re working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills,” Anderson told the crowd. “We’ve also hired state lobbyists to make sure that in these targeted states we’re meeting with the right people.”
Here’s how it works: The Heritage Foundation develops recommended policies that would strip voting access, entrench establishment politicians, and ensure Heritage can continue to influence state and federal politicians for their own gain.
Then, they hire lobbyists, work behind closed doors to draft anti-democracy legislation and trade favors with politicians to get their reforms written into law. Sometimes they even have fake outsiders propose the model legislation, “so it has that grassroots, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe.”
Finally, they meet face to face with lawmakers to drive the nail in the coffin. Just days before the Georgia law passed, Anderson met with Governor Kemp to personally urge him to sign the bill:
“I had one message for him: Do not wait to sign that bill. If you wait even an hour, you will look weak. This bill needs to be signed immediately.”
Right after the bill passed the legislature, Kemp followed Anderson’s advice and quickly signed it into law.
And so far — unfortunately for American voters — this is a winning strategy. Eight provisions in Georgia’s new law, and three in Iowa’s, come directly from the Heritage Foundation. Heritage Action for America wrote 19 of the provisions in Texas’ yet-to-pass anti-voter law, and the executive director admits to working with lawmakers in Arizona, Florida, and more.
The Long Con: Heritage’s History of Attacking Voting Rights
The Heritage Foundation and other big, dark money groups are conducting a coordinated attack on our democracy and our fundamental right to vote. This isn’t just more fallout from Trump’s Big Lie about election fraud — it’s the culmination of years of special interest meddling.
The Heritage Foundation’s co-founder, Paul Weyrich, summed up his organization’s stance on voting rights back in 1980:
“I don’t want everybody to vote,” he said. “Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
This and other dark money groups have been working for decades to block access to the ballot box, so politicians pay more attention to their massive donations than the voices of the people. In 2020 alone, they raised more than $76 million to push their anti-democracy cause. More than $1.6 million of that money came from corporations, many of which hid behind anonymity.
And in 2021, they’re not slowing down. Heritage plans to spend at least $24 million over the next two years in order to pass restrictive, anti-voter laws in 8 key states: Arizona, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, Texas, and Wisconsin.
This is how our political system works: Heritage and other multi-million dollar, secretive organizations bribe politicians to do their bidding, literally writing laws and then paying lawmakers to pass them. They can do all of this hidden behind dark money, so they can skirt campaign contributions and hide their identity.
But don’t lose hope. Here’s why we have more power than ever to stop them.
This is why we're fighting for the For the People Act
These state-based anti-voter laws are spreading around the country thanks to dark money organizations and elitist politicians. And frankly, we can’t fight them on every front. But we don’t have to.
The For the People Act would reverse or override many of these horrible laws, and prevent bad actors from attempting to pass more. But crucially, it would also fix the system that allowed secret dark money groups to rig the system and bribe their way into passing these laws in the first place.
It won’t come as a surprise that Heritage is also spreading disinformation about the Act in a desperate attempt to kill it. By reforming lobbying rules, cracking down on dark money, strengthening enforcement of ethics and campaign finance laws, the For the People Act will finally stop billionaires, corporations, and special interests from buying our elections.
We can pass the For the People Act to stop dark money groups and a handful of billionaires from controlling our government. But when you’re up against multi-billion dollar groups, billionaire special interests, and corporate power, winning takes grassroots power.
That’s where you come in.