Foundations must stop pretending get-out-the-vote support is charity

Mar 30, 2020

They should spend their tax-exempt dollars on real philanthropy, not helping their favorite politicians get elected.

This article originally appeared in American Thinker on March 13, 2020.


The biggest April Fool’s prank regarding the upcoming census, which launches on April 1, is played by those who pretend that get-out-the-vote campaigns are charity.

The 2020 Census count starts next month, and Democrats and professional activists who came out en masse to decry the Trump administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question will no doubt be celebrating their win.

That’s because the Supreme Court ultimately blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question, agreeing that citizenship questions are “unconstitutional”—even though they were included in every census since the presidency of James Monroe until the Obama administration slashed it from the 2010 Census.

Goals, stated and unstated

But here’s a secret not everyone knows: Trump’s biggest opponent in the census fight wasn’t partisan Democrats or the Supreme Court’s ambiguous ruling—but rather the well-heeled, well-coordinated, wealthy leftists pushing Democratic voter strategies in battleground states under the guise of “philanthropy.”

These are the shadowy foundations bankrolling the left’s efforts to increase Democratic voter turnout and gerrymander congressional districts in 2020.

Some are well known, like George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and the Tides Foundation. Others are obscure “pass-through” machines, like the nonprofit empire run by the for-profit consultancy Arabella Advisors.

They’re all part of the Funders Committee for Civic Participation, where the who’s who of the left’s moneyed elite direct hundreds of millions of dollars each year toward their ultimate goal: painting America blue. All told, these foundations and mega-funders poured out a staggering $6.1 billion in 2016 alone.

As InfluenceWatch explains, the Funders Committee is a strategic hub for top-tier mega-funders on the left: the Democracy Alliance, AFL-CIO, Ford Foundation, and Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund are just a few of its 90-odd members. It’s headed by Eric Marshall, whose last job was managing election activism for State Voices, a left-wing voter mobilization group.

Everything is synchronized using the Funders Committee’s “Integrated Voter Engagement.” The model’s partisan goal couldn’t be simpler.  It “strengthens organizational infrastructure and builds resources—in and out of election cycles—that can be mobilized to win effective public policies” (emphasis added). In other words, it builds support for Democratic politicians. That’s accomplished by a seven-step process beginning with “registering voters” and ending with “achieving policy impact.”

An effective model

The Funders Committee calls its model one of “the most effective ways to increase voter turnout,” and little wonder.

In 2005, the Colorado Progressive Coalition put the model to use. The result: thousands of new voters helped the coalition suspend the Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights in a referendum, opening the floodgates to greater state spending.

The next year, the Colorado Progressive Coalition followed up with a successful ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage. It struck again in 2008, using the Integrated Voter Engagement model to defeat a ballot initiative that would have ended race- and sex-based affirmative action.

By carefully targeting Colorado, the left was able to flip a battleground state into a reliably Democratic one—thanks in no small part to systematic efforts by the Funders Committee.

So it’s no surprise that the Funders Committee is beloved by Democrats. As now-disgraced Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota told Committee members in 2017, the census is critical in “determining how many seats in Congress are allocated,” and “I know you’re working hard to make sure that [it] goes smoothly.”

Real charity

The Funders Committee isn’t an IRS-recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Just search services like GuideStar, ProPublica, or the IRS itself—no results.

Instead, it’s one face of NEO Philanthropy, one of the left’s darkest “dark-money” operations. Unlike traditional foundations, NEO wasn’t created with a donor’s financial endowment. Instead, NEO funnels millions of dollars from groups like the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York to activists like the ACLU, New York Immigration Coalition, and CASA de Maryland—three of the most-prominent plaintiffs in the Trump administration’s citizenship-question case this summer.

If you’re like most Americans, a get-out-the-vote drive may strike you as an unusual activity for tax-exempt foundations to spend their tens of millions of dollars on. Getting politicians elected isn’t “charity.”

So here’s the fix: bar nonprofits and foundations from doing census and get-out-the-vote work. Leave that to the U.S. Census Bureau and political parties, which were created to handle those activities. Foundations should spend their tax-exempt dollars on real philanthropy, not electing their favorite politicians to public office.