Dark Money Bought Ranked-Choice Voting in Alaska. Will Dark Money Keep It in 2024?

by | Jul 31, 2023 | Dark Money

Out-of-state political cash is flooding into Alaska, but only one party is benefitting. Guess which.

Originally published at Must Read Alaska (July 20, 2023)

Alaska may be a red state, but it won’t be for long if leftists get their way. In recent years the state has become one of the Left’s favorite “dark money” dumping grounds in an effort to give Democrats an unlikely edge in the Republican stronghold. 

It’s an old trick: If you can’t win the game, change the rules.

That’s the real story behind Alaskans for Better Elections (ABE), the lobbying group responsible for Ballot Measure 2, the 2020 initiative that enacted the state’s now-infamous ranked-choice voting system and supposedly exposed “dark money.” 

If you don’t understand ranked-choice voting, that’s the point. It’s a confusing, byzantine approach to balloting that unexpectedly gave Alaska its first Democratic congresswoman, Mary Peltola, in nearly 50 years—in a state that broke for Trump 53-43 percent in 2020—something the New York Times happily credits to the novel voting scheme.

Not that even Democrats can agree on the merits of ranked-choice voting. In fact, the D.C. Democratic Party voted against adopting ranked-choice voting in May because they feared it would “undermine the strength of Democrats” in the district. Democrats across the Potomac in Arlington County also gave the measure a shot—the first to do so anywhere in my own state, Virginia—only to quietly drop the scheme just last week. Why? Even the election board responsible for the experiment couldn’t explain how it worked.

But that’s no problem because Democrats already control Arlington and D.C. Ranked-choice voting was always meant to give them inroads into red states otherwise inaccessible to their candidates and ideas—like Alaska.

From Colorado with Cash

Pro-Measure 2 groups outspent conservatives nearly 12–1 in 2020 yet only won by less than 3,800 votes—a narrow triumph of “dark money” over… “dark money.”

How so? According to public disclosures, ABE is overwhelmingly funded by “progressive” mega-donors in New York, California, Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin—just about anywhere except for, you know, Alaska.

And ABE admits this, proudly calling its out-of-state contributors “philanthropists dedicated to addressing the most pressing problems facing the country”—as if Alaskans never held a fair election prior to enacting ranked-choice voting. So who are these donors? 

John Arnold is an Enron alumnus and hedge fund investor who made his billions trading so-called fossil fuels. Now he’s pumped at least $23 million into groups that want to tax people and businesses for using those CO2-emitting fuels. Not surprisingly, pro-carbon tax groups also supported Measure 2. Arnold’s “philanthropy,” the Houston-based Arnold Ventures, has cut checks to ABE since 2019; yet it’s structured as an LLC, not a nonprofit, so it doesn’t file public disclosures, the very definition of “dark money.”

Then there’s FairVote, the far-left group behind ranked-choice voting in Arlington County. FairVote also supports abolishing the Electoral College and automatic voter registration, two of the Left’s favorite election “reforms” du jour.

Kathryn and James (son of Rupert) Murdoch have pumped tens of millions of dollars into even more extreme “green” groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, which used $11 million from the pair’s philanthropy in 2019 to lobby against gas and oil production. Kathryn was a top donor to super PACs backing Hillary Clinton in 2016, and even directed the Clinton Foundation’s global warming initiative—whose contributions mysteriously sank after Hillary failed to clinch the presidency.

The New York pair’s money-funnel of choice: Unite America, a Denver-based group that pumped $3.7 million into ABE from 2019–2021. Unite America pretends to be a middle-of-the-road, “country over party” group but its board (which includes Kathryn) leans decidedly left. 

That board also includes Katherine Gehl, an ABE supporter based in Wisconsin. Gehl’s also on the board of New America, a “centrist” think tank led by ex-Obama administration officials and funded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Centrist indeed; New America was behind “creation care,” a faux-biblical scheme to seduce Evangelicals into buying the Left’s global warming and split off from the Republican Party.

Besides Alaska, Unite America is behind ranked-choice voting campaigns in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Nevada, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, and dozens of municipalities; it also funds Bill Kristol’s NeverTrump group Defending Democracy Together (delightfully acronymed DDT).

The Left Strikes Back

Now ABE is turning its guns on conservative groups trying to roll back ranked-choice voting with a new ballot measure. This week, ABE filed a complaint against Preserve Democracy alleging campaign finance and lobbying violations. The complaints follow similar efforts to block signature-gathering campaign by a related conservative group, Alaskans for Honest Elections

It’s called lawfare—winning with legal miscellanea what you can’t in a fair fight—and the Left excels at it. 

But the complaints suggest that Alaska conservatives are onto something big in battling ranked-choice voting if they can gather enough signatures to get on the 2024 ballot. Americans across the country are waking up to the Left’s Big Money plots, and it’s got “progressives” running scared.

Of course, this is far from the first time D.C. “progressives” have bankrolled a campaign to fool Alaskans. In September, I reported on how D.C. groups—led by the $1.6 billion “dark money” lobbying machine created by Arabella Advisors—ran the campaign to block Alaska’s proposed constitutional convention

Their spin: Stop “outside special interest groups and dark money” from promoting their own agenda over that of Alaskans. Did they think no one would notice?

That group, Defend Our Constitution, and ABE both share a common board member in ex-attorney general Bruce Botelho (D). Both use the services of Ship Creek Group, the consultancy founded by John-Henry Heckendorn, a political operative whom liberal Politico once gushed over as “reviving progressivism” in Alaska with an article titled “How to Turn a Red State Purple (Democrats Not Required).”

In other words, it’s an out-of-state grift to get red Alaska to fall in line with blue states. Don’t let them buy you.

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