The head of a top conservative group boasted last month in a private meeting with big-money donors that her organization drafted Georgia’s latest voter suppression law and was working on similar bills for Republican state legislatures around 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.”
Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a sister organization of the Heritage Foundation, told the foundation’s donors on April 22 in Tucson that the Georgia law had “eight main provisions that Heritage recommended,” according to a recording obtained by the watchdog group Documented and shared with Mother Jones.
Those measures included prohibiting election officials from sending absentee ballot request forms to voters, making it easier for partisan staff to track elections, prohibiting the collection of mail ballots, and limiting counties’ right to accept contributions from nonprofit organizations seeking to help with election administration.
Many of these suggestions were taken directly from Heritage’s February “best practices” list. Georgia became “the model for the rest of the world” with Heritage’s support, according to Anderson.
Heritage is leading a huge effort to draft and pass model legislation limiting voting access, which has been quickly implemented this year in the battleground states of Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and Iowa, according to the leaked video. It’s no coincidence that so many Republican-controlled states are trying to pass similar bills in such a short time.
Republican lawmakers say they are tightening election processes in order to fix (unfounded) fears about election fraud in 2020. But the real driving force behind this campaign is a group of conservative Washington insiders who have been pushing for similar voting limits for decades in order to help Republicans win elections. The difference now is that Trump’s false predictions about 2020 have provided them with the ammunition they need to pass the bills, and the conservative movement, led by Heritage, is investing unparalleled resources to see them through.
“We’re working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills,” Anderson told the Heritage Foundation donors. In addition to drafting the bills in some cases, “we’ve also hired state lobbyists to make sure that in these targeted states we’re meeting with the right people.”
Heritage will invest $24 million over two years in eight swing states—Arizona, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, Texas, and Wisconsin—to pass and defend restrictive voting laws, as Anderson put it. Every Tuesday, the organization hosts a conference call with right-wing activist organizations such as Susan B. Anthony List, Tea Party Patriots, and FreedomWorks to organize conservative movement activities at the highest levels. Anderson explained, “We basically send marching orders for the week ahead.” “As a result, we’re all singing from the same song sheet in terms of the priorities for the week and the locations of state bills around the country.”
Anderson said she met with Gov. Brian Kemp days before the Georgia legislature passed a sweeping bill restricting access to the ballot box and encouraged him to sign the bill as soon as it reached his desk. Anderson, a former Trump administration official in the Office of Management and Budget, said, “I had one message for him.”
“Do not wait to sign that bill. If you wait even an hour, you will look weak. This bill needs to be signed immediately.” Kemp followed Anderson’s advice, signing the bill right after its passage. Heritage called it a “historic voting security bill.”
Anderson said she sent Republican governors in Texas, Arizona, and Florida the “same message.” Heritage’s next big battleground in Texas. Heritage Action wrote “19 provisions” in a Texas House bill, according to Anderson, that would make it illegal for election officials to send a mail ballot request form to a voter who hadn’t specifically requested one, and would expose poll workers to criminal charges for dismissing political poll challengers suspected of voter intimidation. It is expected to move over the next few days.
“Gov. Abbott will sign it quickly,” Anderson said. She went on to warn of corporate opposition to the bill, following actions by Georgia-based companies to distance themselves from the restrictive voting bill there. “American Airlines, Dell, they’re coming after us,” she said. “We need to be ready for the next fight in Texas.”
Anderson went on to state that “we are proud of our work at the national level and in states across this country to promote commonsense reforms that make it easier to vote and harder to cheat. We’ve been transparent about our plans and public with our policy recommendations, and we won’t be intimidated by the left’s smear campaign and cancel culture.”
While Heritage’s bills have been marketed as promoting “election fairness,” they tend to be more focused on assisting Republican candidates in regaining control. “We are going to take the fierce fire that is in every single one of our bellies to correct the wrongs of November,” Anderson told donors in April.
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment,” Anderson said in April. “If we don’t win this, we lose our republic, period.”
The video from the Heritage summit appears to show that Republican state legislators are seeking voting limits at the behest of well-funded Washington insiders, rather than in reaction to actual local problems.