IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
A voter drops an election ballot off at the Pitkin County Administration box in Aspen, Colorado, on Nov. 6, 2018.Anna Stonehouse / The Aspen Times via AP

Group quietly boasts about crafting GOP's voter-suppression bills

A nightmare for voting-rights advocates: a well-financed dark-money group, writing anti-voting templates, all while giving a faux grassroots "type of vibe"


For many years, the Heritage Foundation was known as a prominent conservative D.C. think tank, helping undergird the Republican Party's intellectual infrastructure. But as the right's focus shifted away from policymaking and more toward activism, Heritage kept pace and created a separate entity, Heritage Action for America, to engage in advocacy work.

We're occasionally reminded just how significant an impact it's having. Ari Berman and Nick Surgery reported from Mother Jones yesterday:

In a private meeting last month with big-money donors, the head of a top conservative group boasted that her outfit had crafted the new voter suppression law in Georgia and was doing the same with similar bills for Republican state legislators across the country. "In some cases, we actually draft them for them," she said, "or we have a sentinel on our behalf give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe."

At the heart of the story is a video, obtained by the watchdog group Documented and shared with Mother Jones, which MSNBC and NBC News have not independently verified. That said, at face value, the recording shows Jessica Anderson, Heritage Action's executive director, speaking to donors at an April 22 gathering in Tucson.

And Anderson had quite a story to share with her group's financial backers, not only celebrating the wave of voter-suppression measures being approved by Republican officials in states nationwide, but boasting about Heritage Action's direct role in the larger campaign. From the article:

The leaked video reveals the extent to which Heritage is leading a massive campaign to draft and pass model legislation restricting voting access, which has been swiftly adopted this year in the battleground states of Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and Iowa. It's no coincidence that so many GOP-controlled states are rushing to pass similar pieces of legislation in such a short period of time.

"Iowa is the first state that we got to work in, and we did it quickly and we did it quietly," Anderson said in the video. "We worked quietly with the Iowa state legislature. We got the best practices to them. We helped draft the bills. We made sure activists were calling the state legislators, getting support, showing up at their public hearings, giving testimony.... Little fanfare. Honestly, nobody even noticed. My team looked at each other and we're like, 'It can't be that easy.'"

It wasn't long, of course, before the conservative group built on that "easy" success in several other states.

For voting-rights advocates, reports like these -- a well-financed dark-money group, writing anti-voting templates, all while giving a faux grassroots "type of vibe" -- are likely gut-wrenching. But what about the Democrats' "For the People Act," which would protect Americans' voting rights against these kinds of efforts?

The bill -- H.R. 1 in the House, S. 1 in the Senate -- is facing increasingly long odds. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has balked at the ambitious proposal, instead offering a proposed fix to the Voting Rights Act, which he said might serve as a bipartisan compromise.

Less than a day later, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) blasted the idea and rejected it out of hand.

Yesterday morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) effectively danced on the bill's grave, telling Fox News, "It's not gonna pass the Senate. There's not a single Republican for it.... It will not pass."

It's a safe bet the folks at Heritage Action were watching -- and smiling.