Inside the Secret $32 Million Effort to Stop ‘Stop the Steal’
- Supporting organizations pushing for expansive ballot measures in Arizona and Michigan.
- Boosting voter outreach programs, such as groups running registration drives at local jails in Pennsylvania and “souls at the ballot box” events in Florida.
- Support campaigns to urge local officials to expand access to early voting.
In total, the organizations have funded 126 groups in 16 states, from national battleground states like Arizona and Pennsylvania to places like South Carolina and New Jersey, where most nationwide races state have not been particularly competitive.
“It was very clear there was a mobilized constituency that cared about democracy, but they were on the wrong side,” David Donnelly, the progressive veteran behind the groups, said of Tory campaigners post-2020. And there wasn’t like a big answer to what we needed to defeat him.
Donnelly, a longtime member of the good governance advocacy community, declined to reveal sources of campaign funding. But the PDC’s substantial budget and expansive operations underscore the depth of progressive concerns that exist about Trump’s efforts to change election laws and election administration across the country. It represents a significant investment in state infrastructure at a time when progressives feared too much attention and resources were directed to national infrastructure and institutions.
In addition to the $32 million channeled directly through the PDC, it also channeled an additional $16 million directly from other funders to partner groups. Both issues were provided to POLITICO by PDC.
For comparison: The Conservative Partnership Institute, which served as a hub for Trump allies — including lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who was on the call where Trump tried to pressure Georgia officials to cancel the 2020 election — made $45 million in 2021, according to tax documents shared with the money-in-politics-focused publication Sludge.
The group intentionally operated behind the scenes throughout the midterm election cycle, without conducting media outreach or even launching a public-facing website. POLITICO is the first to report on its existence and the significant funding of dozens of groups.
Donnelly said the goal of his fundraising network is “to get people to fight, not just to get more politics buffs or to get more lawyers.” That meant supporting a broader network of groups that worked in local and state communities with voters and activists rather than a DC-based operation.
“We decided that it wouldn’t be enough to fund a set of voter protection efforts or fund a set of candidates to run against Holocaust deniers,” he said. “We needed to fund the infrastructure of the organization, to give more weight to the battles over democracy.”
Donnelly said he kept the network a secret throughout the cycle because, as a general rule, he doesn’t “believe in promoting work until he does,” and publicizing the effort wouldn’t have been helpful. to partner organizations. Now, with the 2022 election over, “the groups that worked in the states deserve credit…because I think they were instrumental in not just getting democracy on the ballot but on the doorstep.”
The effort began with talks with heads of state in the summer of 2021.
Angela Lang, executive director of the Wisconsin-based BLOC, said PDC funding helped her organization hire a “democracy organizer” to help with research and communications for her group, which works to mobilize communities blacks in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha. “I think the more groups the better, especially now, having conversations about democracy is super important,” she said.
Elsewhere in Wisconsin, PDC has backed organizations urging jurisdictions to extend their early voting hours, with Donnelly citing a successful push in Green Bay to get the city council to approve more money to keep polls open longer. .
“There were 10 times as many speakers in favor of expanding voting hours at that city council meeting where they appropriated additional funds than there were those opposed” , did he declare. “These people did not come from nowhere. They were organized by local groups.
Doran Schrantz, executive director of Faith in Minnesota, helped lead a larger coalition of groups in her state called We Choose Us, which focused on “expanding and protecting multiracial democracy” in the state. That effort was already underway when pro-democracy groups reached out, eventually sending him $1 million, Schrantz said.
This money was used to staff the campaign, as well as to reallocate some of this money to organizations in the We Choose Us coalition to run local programs.
“What struck me right away was that [PDC] had an analysis on how to build a democracy and election protection strategy that was very much aligned with ours. It’s about states, it’s about state power and political infrastructure,” Schrantz said. “Not ‘we have a political issue that we want to push through DC, can you get some people to support this political issue,’ which is a very different way of thinking about building infrastructure.”
It was the right way, Schrantz said, to counter “the very robust grassroots organization on the ground that we could see was to ‘Stop the Steal’.”
Looking ahead, PDC and its partner organizations hope to capitalize on the fact that “Stop the Steal” forces are largely pushed back across the country in the midterm elections. In Minnesota, Schrantz mentioned he was advocating for a “Democratic agenda” after Democrats unexpectedly seized full control of state government, pushing for things like automatic voter registration or exploring a independent redistricting commission in the state.
“We should be in breach in 2024, and ready to go, to continue supporting and expanding voting rights, especially in states,” she said.
Donnelly said his organizations will not leave and will “continue to support groups that build capacity over time.”
But he noted some uncertainty among big space donors about whether the fight is over.
One concern he hears in the fundraising world is that some feel “like, ‘oh, we’ve avoided the kind of doomsday scenario of all these Holocaust deniers winning in key offices, so we don’t have to worry about for now. Trump is on the ground, but he’s not as powerful anymore,” Donnelly said.
“It’s a whistle by the attitude of the cemetery,” he continued. “We held the line narrowly, and no one is leaving on either side.”