Inside Democrats’ Best-Kept Secret: Mass Nonprofit Voter Registration (Pt. 1)

by | Mar 8, 2023 | Election Integrity

How the Voter Participation Center aims to cement Democratic rule by remaking America’s electorate

There may be two major parties vying for votes, but one is fighting with sophisticated weaponry and the other is using pop guns.

The Democratic Party’s best-kept secret is its massive weaponization of America’s charities to supercharge voter participation in key states, undoubtedly tipping elections. Ensuring people vote—dubbed “saving democracy” by the Left—sounds innocuous, perhaps even admirable. But it may also be flat-out illegal.

This is the stealth juggernaut that threatens to seize permanent control of Washington if Republicans don’t wake up to what’s happening and fight back.

Weaponized Charity

When most Americans picture politics, they think of the two parties. What they should see is the vast array of tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofits—think the Salvation Army or your local church—working to elect Democrats and shape policy, all in the name of “charity.” For decades, leftists have weaponized America’s charitable sector for partisan gain, thanks to loose laws and a near-limitless wellspring of cash from the Ford, Gates, and other foundations.

IRS nonprofit arcana may not sound sexy, but abusing nonprofit voter registration rules has proven one of the most effective ways of increasing Democrats’ vote share in places like Colorado, Arizona, and Georgia, turning reliably red states blue over the past two decades.

Leftists wrote the book on partisan voter registration, and conservatives have yet to even notice it.

The IRS bars 501(c)(3) nonprofits from conducting biased registration campaigns—targeting only Republicans or Democrats, something reserved to partisan committees (PACs)—at the risk of losing their tax exemption. The law even prohibits nonprofit registration drives that have the effect of boosting one party over another.

Theoretically, both sides toe this line. In reality the Left is shameless about pushing the law to its limits, arguably crossing it, while the Right is too afraid to engage in much nonprofit voter registration at all.

But what if nonprofits ran biased registration campaigns using data on where certain demographics live and how they vote? This is the code to the Democratic Party’s ability to discover new “progressive” voters in just the right places to build an electoral majority, virtually from the shadows.

Erick Kaardal, special counsel on election law for the Thomas More Society, explained the challenge of litigating against biased registration to Restoration of America:

The election integrity challenge is to have state courts hold that 501(c)(3) funds can’t be used for voter registration of targeted progressive demographic groups—urban residents or students. The Internal Revenue Service has stated such funds can’t be used directly or indirectly for biased voter registration. But there is no authorization for suing in federal courts. So, the only remaining choice is taxpayer standing lawsuits in state courts—which is good enough.

“But eventually,” he pointed out, “the U.S. Supreme Court will have to rule whether urban cities and public universities can lawfully use 501(c)(3) funds for the political purpose identified: voter registration campaigns targeted to progressive voters.”

Until then, groups will continue to operate like it’s the Wild West.

Manufactured Participation

At the heart of this election machine is a pair of D.C.-based nonprofits: the 501(c)(3) Voter Participation Center (VPC) and 501(c)(4) Center for Voter Information (CVI). Both share a common founder, Page Gardner, who registered voters for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential primary campaign. (At one point Clinton crony John Podesta also sat on VPC’s board.) Gardner is credited with discovering the “marriage gap” in 2003, a statistical revelation showing that unmarried women were less likely to be registered or turn out than married women but were more likely to support Democrats.

Of course, single women are just one part of the “New American Majority,” the Left’s euphemism for likely Democratic voters.

VPC and CVI were created to identify and register likely Democrats, cleverly using statistics to predict how individuals vote and microtargeting techniques to discover where they live. Using demographic data is the sharpest way to register certain voters without explicitly violating the IRS ban on biased registration drives. As VPC boasts: We’re “dedicated to increasing the share of unmarried women, people of color, Millennials, Gen Z, and other historically under-represented groups in the electorate”—which happen to be the Democratic Party’s core constituencies.

Liberal journalist Sasha Issenberg spelled out the obvious in his 2012 book The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns:

Even though the [Voter Participation Center] was officially nonpartisan, for tax purposes, there was no secret that the goal of all its efforts was to generate new votes for Democrats [emphasis added].

Does this violate the IRS prohibition on partisan registration drives? Any reasonable observer would probably agree with Issenberg. Yet the IRS has utterly failed to hold VPC accountable, and watchdogs have paid too little attention to the Left’s nonprofit machine to push for that accountability.

Each election cycle, VPC and CVI mail out tens of millions of partially pre-filled-in voter registration applications and, in certain states, absentee ballot applications. Postage is pre-paid by the nonprofit. A custom graph “helpfully” compares the recipient’s voting history with that of his neighbors, shaming low-propensity voters into turning out.

Their targets are far from random or uniform, focusing on battleground states in presidential elections and or states with key Senate and gubernatorial races in midterm cycles. In many cases, the return address is a local P.O. box—not the groups’ Washington, D.C. address—giving the appearance of a grassroots effort as well as revealing which registered voters are no longer active at their current address. For a nation battling the threat of voter fraud, that ought to raise eyebrows.  

Source: Election Integrity Network, 2023.

Secret Strategies in 2020

If you’ve never heard of Mind the Gap, you’re probably not a Democratic mega-donor. The Palo Alto, California-based super PAC quietly advises wealthy leftists on which races to fund with an eye towards winning control of Congress. “Secret” is the watchword. As Mind the Gap puts it in a 2019 private strategy memo:

the magnitude of our efforts, the details of targeting, and the names of the organizations we are recommending, would be of great interest to [Republicans]. If that information becomes public, it would make [Mind the Gap] and the donee organizations targets for Republicans.

Critically, that memo advises donors to cut their checks to 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) nonprofits doing voter registration—specifically the Voter Participation Center and Center for Voter Information—instead of campaign committees. That money “donated to both organizations . . . will target minority populations in geographic areas crucial to victory in the [2020] Presidential election and key down-ballot races,” the group explains.

Why use nonprofits instead of PACs?

Because “on a pre-tax basis” nonprofit voter registration “focused on underrepresented groups”—meaning Democratic constituencies—is “2 to 5 times more cost-effective at netting additional Democratic votes than the tactics that campaigns will invest in (chiefly, broadcast media and digital buys)” [emphasis added].

Contributions to 501(c)(3) groups are tax-deductible for donors, too. “On an after-tax basis such programs are closer to 4 to 10 times more cost effective than the next best alternative. They are also eligible recipients of donations from donor-advised funds and private foundations” [emphasis added].

In other words, to win the Democrats congressional majorities, turn to tax-exempt nonprofits—not the Democratic Party. Never mind that the IRS expressly prohibits 501(c)(3) nonprofits from running registration and get-out-the-vote drives “conducted in a biased manner that favors (or opposes) one or more candidates” or one political party over another.

But that’s VPC’s main selling point to the Left. The group brags that its registration-by-mail campaign netted an additional 272,443 votes in the 2020 election—“votes that would not have happened without VCP/CVI’s efforts”—214,000 of them in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona.

Not surprisingly, VPC all but ignored uncompetitive states in the Northeast, South, and West Coast.

VPC claims credit for registering over 935,000 new voters in 2020 at a cost of $277 per net vote. A significant portion of those, nearly 100,000 voters, were “downstream” from the group’s registration efforts in the 2016 and 2018 cycles, highlighting the staying power of these drives.

Source: Voter Participation Center 2020 Impact Report.

Targeting the Youth Vote

In August 2022, VPC commissioned a poll of black voters in (largely) battleground states—including Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida—to determine how to improve vote-by-mail results among this key Democratic demographic.

VPC determined that “messages . . . referenc[ing] threats to black people’s right to vote,” “validation” from Michelle Obama and other black elected officials, and efforts to promote mail-in ballots “as a potential boost for black voter turnout could sway more black voters to vote by mail.”

VPC estimated that there were 8.3 million newly eligible young voters up for grabs in 2022 alone. Critically, young black voters reported the most interest in voting by mail as well as strong views on abortion “rights” and preventing mass shootings.

In contrast, VPC’s survey revealed that black voters who mistrust voting by mail were both “less active as voters in general” and “less likely to identify as Democrats or liberals” by as much as 10 percent. Interestingly, the poll also showed that vote-by-mail skeptics were far and away more likely to self-identify as “conservative” than “Republican,” and reported reasonable concerns about the security and trustworthiness of both mail-in ballots and early voting policies.

For VPC, the bottom line was clear: Use “in-state black elected officials and civil rights organizations to explain why voting by mail can be trusted,” then counter critics by blasting that “efforts to undermine [vote-by-mail] translate to undermining black political power.”

Next: How the Voter Participation Center blanketed America in mailers in the 2022 elections

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