The rash of voter suppression bills making their way through state legislatures have the potential to make life a lot worse for LGBTQ people. More than two dozen have passed so far, with more on the way. By limiting who can vote, Republicans are hoping to institute ultra-conservative changes that would invariably include anti-LGBTQ measures.
But how do dozens of similar bills suddenly appear in state legislatures across the nation?
As it turns out, the voter suppression movement is the work of a national organization funded by dark money, Heritage Action for America, the sister organization of the anti-LGTBQ Heritage Foundation.
The Heritage Foundation started Heritage Action in 2010, when it was raging against the Obama Administration.
In a video obtained by the watchdog group Documented and shared with Mother Jones, Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action, boasted to donors that her group wrote the anti-voting legislation passed in Georgia and was working with legislators in other states to pass similar bills.
“In some cases, we actually draft them for them,” Anderson 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.”
But there is nothing grassroots about the effort. Under the guise of “election integrity,” Heritage Action created a list of must-haves for voter suppression legislation last February.
“We’re working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills,” Anderson said. “We’ve also hired state lobbyists to make sure that in these targeted states we’re meeting with the right people.”
The work comes with a high price tag.
Heritage is spending $24 million over the next two years in eight targeted states: Arizona, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, Texas, and Wisconsin. The group organizes weekly calls with other voter suppression activists to coordinate efforts.
“We literally give marching orders for the week ahead,” Anderson said. “All so we’re singing from the same song sheet of the goals for that week and where the state bills are across the country.”
It’s impossible to know just who is funding this massive voter suppression effort. Heritage Action is structured so that it doesn’t have to reveal who any of its donors are.
Mother Jones described the relationship between the two organizations as symbiotic: “The foundation writes the policy, and Heritage Action makes it happen.”
The Heritage Foundation has a long record of opposition to LGBTQ rights.
It is among the leaders in the blizzard of anti-trans legislation happening in states this year and is fighting against passage of the Equality Act. It populated the Trump administration with former employees, including Roger Severino, who instituted many of the administration’s anti-trans measures.
Voter suppression would potentially allow the Heritage Foundation to unfairly tilt election results further to the right. With a Republican majority in place, the Foundation can then implement the right-wing legislation that it longs for.
In February, former Vice President Mike Pence joined the Heritage Foundation as a “Distinguished Visiting Fellow.” He advises the group on public policy and also writes a monthly column for its news outlet.
Former Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint described the relationship between his group and Heritage Action as “a one-two punch.” The first punch is aimed directly at democracy. The second is aimed at us.