Several nonprofit groups working to register voters are privately sounding the alarm over their finances, warning donors they will have to start scaling back their programs just as the country enters the final stretch of midterm elections. .
It is a critical moment. Today is National Voter Registration Day and the deadlines to register are fast approaching. In four states — Minnesota, South Dakota, Virginia and Wyoming — early voting begins later this week.
The more established groups that have worked on voter registration for years have anticipated the cuts, know the traditional rhythms of minor midterm elections, and have planned accordingly. But other newer organizations that emerged amid a rush of donor interest during the 2020 election cycle have struggled to adapt to changing circumstances.
“To the extent that any organization working on voter registration anywhere in the country is having trouble getting full funding for this cycle, I find that extremely concerning,” said Bruce Cohen, a Democratic donor and activist. “I would ask other potential donors, if not now, when?”
The main targets of complaints among voter registration groups are the Democracy Fund, a foundation financed by Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of eBay; and the Open Society Foundations, the global philanthropic organization founded by billionaire investor George Soros.
Donor advisers said in interviews that the Democracy Fund and OSF created the expectation that millions of dollars would be received for democracy-related programs in 2022, only to disappoint many potential recipients months later.
According to an email shared with The New York Times, branches of the two groups invited potential donors to the “Road Map for American Democracy” presentation in June.
“We will need to mobilize more than $1 billion to maintain the integrity of our electoral process and ensure diverse and equitable participation,” the email said.
The Open Society Foundations is going through a tumultuous period of transition. When Soros entered the 90s, he handed over authority to his son Alex. Last year, my colleague Nicholas Kulish reported that the group had abruptly reduced its donations around the world as part of a “restructuring plan”.
OSF press officers denied that the organization had made promises that it had not kept.
“We thought we were talking to donors over a longer period of time,” said Laleh Ispahani, co-director of US-focused programs at the Open Society Foundations, which has worked to recruit other donors. “We were always clear that democracy is not being saved in a single election. That’s a longer-term project.”
The State of the 2022 Midterms
With the primaries over, both parties are shifting their focus to the November 8 general election.
He said that OSF had already invested between $40 million and $75 million in 2022 for programs related to democracy and voting rights. “We will never withdraw from this space,” she said. “This is our bread and butter.”
A representative for the Democracy Fund did not respond to a request for comment.
“OSF helped us in a big way,” said Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project, which was instrumental in registering tens of thousands of voters of color ahead of Democratic victories in 2020 and early 2021.
But he added: “What we’re seeing is an overall drop in fundraising” for the broader coalition of groups that helped his group turn Georgia into a blue state through grassroots community organizing and registration. voters. “People who think Georgia is competitive don’t understand what made Georgia competitive.”
One reason for the funding difficulties is the hangover from 2020, when foundations and private donors poured millions into democracy-related projects, including voter registration. The Senate elections in Georgia in early 2021, coupled with Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential results, poured jet fuel into those efforts.
“The donors were buoyed by the threat to democracy,” said a person who advises wealthy people on their political contributions and who insisted on anonymity. The person described a feeling of exhaustion among the donor class: “People left it all on the field.”
At times, those efforts have blurred the line between neutral nonprofit work and partisan advantage. An analysis by Ken Vogel and Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times, for example, found that “15 of the most politically active nonprofits that generally align with the Democratic Party spent more than $1.5 billion in 2020.”
At the time, they reported, Democrats were “warning major donors not to give in to the financial complacency that often afflicts the ruling party.”
What we consider before using anonymous sources. Do the sources know the information? What is your motivation for telling us? Have they proven reliable in the past? Can we verify the information? Even satisfied with these questions, The Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The reporter and at least one editor know the identity of the source.
It is not entirely clear if the complacency they feared has now arrived or if only certain groups have been disproportionately affected. Several people closely involved with the Democratic Party’s voter registration plans said they were unaware of a systemic crisis.
Among the affected groups, people familiar with its internal finances said, was the Voter Education Project, which describes its mission as “increasing participation in local, state and national elections through digital communication, experimentation and sharing.” of knowledge”. Tatenda Musapalike, director of the Voter Education Project, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
But another reason for the budget shortfall, people familiar with the situation said, is the poor state of the economy, which has led to belt-tightening at corporate America and the world of institutional investors, including those who regularly fund efforts like voter registration. who are considered nonpartisan and politically safe.
The larger context
As On Politics reported in January, The Republicans have begun to close the gap with the Democrats. in voter registration in major battleground states, including Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
In Pennsylvania, for example, the Democrats’ lead in registrations has shrunk to 540,000 as of today, from 685,000 as of November 2020. according to an analysis by Politico.
In 2020, the pandemic disrupted the party’s two main avenues for attracting new voters: registrations with the Department of Motor Vehicles and in-person fieldwork. Democratic candidates and party caucuses slashed door-call campaigns, while Republicans largely maintained their in-person polling programs.
An analysis shared with The New York Times by Catalist, a Democratic data firm, showed that in 2020, Democrats’ traditional lead in voter registration shrank to nine percentage points in 29 states, down from a lead of 19. points over Republicans in 2008.
This year, as the pandemic has subsided, Democratic-aligned groups, including labor unions and the League of Conservation Voters, have revived their field programs. And a wave of anger on the left and among young people over the Supreme Court ruling on abortion. has led to a concomitant surge in new registrations for Democrats.
But top Democrats have quietly discussed for months how to address what some officials see as a broader problem with how the party handles voter registration.
Democrats have traditionally relied on a mix of official and partisan voter registration drives by state parties and candidates, as well as outreach by nonprofit groups that are legally prohibited from targeting communities because of their expected party affiliation. .
Yet as Republicans have made gains, most notably in Florida, where the GOP now has a registration lead of about 200,000 voters, senior Democrats have begun to question whether the party should carry more of those. officially nonpartisan voter registration drives internally. .
For the 2022 cycle, the Democratic National Committee is spending nearly $25 million on his “I Will Vote” initiative, which includes voter protection, legal challenges, and voter registration in battleground states, focused on communities of color and college campuses. The voter registration component of the program began with an initial investment of nearly $5 million, but has since expanded.
The DNC also began an advertising campaign this week around National Voter Registration Day, with digital ads targeting college students on Instagram, YouTube and other platforms. The committee also plans to fly banners during college football games encouraging students to register.
“This is the DNC’s largest voter registration investment in a mid-term cycle and marks a return to an aspect of party building that the DNC has not engaged in for several cycles,” said Ammar Moussa, spokesman of the committee.
what to read
A federal judge has expressed skepticism about an attempt by Donald Trump’s lawyers to dodge again the issue of whether Trump had declassified some of the highly sensitive records seized from his Florida home by the FBI, report Alan Feuer and Charlie Savage.
Newly released videos show Trump allies and contractors working on his behalf manning sensitive voting equipment in a rural Georgia county weeks after the 2020 election, Danny Hakim, Richard Fausset and Nick Corasaniti report.
A sleeper race in this year’s Senate races is also one of the sleepiest, writes Jonathan Weisman, as Ted Budd and Cheri Beasley square off in North Carolina, a state known for breaking the hearts of Democrats.
Where in America is it easiest and hardest to vote? The bottom-ranking status in a new academic study called the Cost of Voting Index might surprise you. Nick Corasaniti and Allison McCann lay out the details.
Nate Cohn, The Times’s leading polling expert, asks a perfectly reasonable question: Can we trust the polls?
Thank you for reading On Politics and for being a subscriber to The New York Times. —Blake
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