Inside the secret $32 million effort to stop ‘Stop the Steal’


  • Support organizations that were pushing for expansive ballot measures in Arizona and Michigan.
  • Boost voter outreach programs, such as groups organizing registration drives at local Pennsylvania jails and “souls to the polls” events in Florida.
  • Advocacy campaigns to urge local officials to expand access to early voting.

In all, the organizations funded 126 groups in 16 states, from national battleground states like Arizona and Pennsylvania to places like South Carolina and New Jersey, where most state races haven’t been particularly competitive.
“It was very clear that there was a mobilized electorate who cared about democracy, but they were on the wrong side,” David Donnelly, the veteran progressive operative behind the groups, said of post-2020 Conservative election campaigners. “And there was no a great answer to what we needed to have to defeat him.”

Donnelly, a longtime member of the good governance advocacy community, declined to disclose the funding sources behind the campaign. But the PDC’s substantial budget and extensive operations underscore the depth of progressive concern that exists about Trump-led efforts to change election laws and election administration across the country. He represents a significant investment in state infrastructure at a time when progressives have feared too much attention and resources have been devoted to national infrastructure and institutions.

In addition to the PDC’s $32 million channeled directly, it also diverted an additional $16 million directly from other funders to partner groups. Both numbers were provided to POLITICO by PDC.

For comparison: The Conservative Partnership Institute, which has served as a hub for Trump allies, including attorney Cleta Mitchell, who was on the call in which Trump tried to pressure Georgia officials to nullify the 2020 election. , raised $45 million in 2021, according to tax documents shared with the post focused on money in politics Sludge.

The group intentionally operated behind the scenes throughout the entire midterm election cycle, without engaging in media outreach or even launching a public website. POLITICO is the first to report its existence and the extensive funding of dozens of groups.

Donnelly said the goal of his funding network was to “get people into the fight, not just bring in more policy experts or bring in more lawyers.” That meant supporting a broader network of groups that worked in state and local communities with voters and activists rather than a DC-based operation.

“We decided that it wouldn’t be enough to fund a bunch of election protection efforts or fund a bunch of candidates to compete against election deniers,” he said. “We needed to finance the infrastructure of the organization, to give more weight to the battles for democracy.”

Donnelly said he kept the network secret throughout the cycle because, as a general principle, he doesn’t “believe in promoting work before we do it,” and publicizing the effort would not have been helpful to partner organizations. Now, with the 2022 election over, “the groups that worked in the states deserve the credit…because I think they played an essential role in not only getting democracy on the ballot but also in the gates.”

The effort began with interviews with state leaders in the summer of 2021.

Angela Lang, executive director of the Wisconsin-based BLOC, said PDC funds helped her organization hire a “democracy organizer” to help with research and communications for her group, which works on mobilizing Black communities in Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha. “I think the more groups the better, especially now, having conversations about democracy is very important,” she said.

Elsewhere in Wisconsin, the PDC supported organizations urging jurisdictions to extend their early voting hours, and Donnelly cited a successful push in Green Bay to get the city council to approve more money to keep the polls open longer. weather.

“There were 10 times as many speakers in favor of the extended voting hours at that city council meeting where they appropriated additional money than there were who were opposed,” he said. “Those people did not come from nowhere. They were organized by local groups.”

Doran Schrantz, executive director of Faith in Minnesota, helped lead a larger coalition of groups in his state called We Choose Us, which focused on “expanding and protecting multiracial democracy” in the state. That effort was already underway when pro-democracy groups reached out and eventually sent him $1 million, Schrantz said.

That money went towards staffing the campaign, as well as giving some of that money back to organizations in the We Choose Us coalition to run local programs.

“What immediately struck me was that [PDC] I had an analysis on how to build a protective strategy for democracy and elections that was very much in line with ours. This is about states, this is about state power and political infrastructure,” Schrantz said. “Not ‘we have a policy issue that we want to pass in DC, can you encourage some people to support that policy issue,’ which is a very different way of thinking about building infrastructure.”

It was the right way, Schrantz said, to counter “the very strong grassroots organization on the ground that we could see was about ‘Stop theft.’”

Looking ahead, PDC and its partner organizations hope to heavily capitalize on the defeat of “Stop the Steal” forces across the country in the midterm elections. In Minnesota, Schrantz mentioned advocating for a “democratic agenda” after Democrats unexpectedly captured full control of state government, pushing things like automatic voter registration or exploring an independent redistricting commission in the state.

“We should be on the offensive in 2024 and ready to go, to continue to strengthen and expand voting rights, especially in the states,” he said.

Donnelly said his organizations are not going away and that they will “continue to support groups that build their capacity over time.”

But he did notice some uncertainty among big donors in the space about whether the fight is over.

One concern he hears in the fundraising world is that some feel “like, ‘oh, we avoided the kind of disaster scenario of all these election deniers winning key offices, so we don’t have to worry about this. now. Trump is on the field, but he’s not that powerful anymore,’” Donnelly said.

“That’s a hiss for the graveyard attitude,” he continued. “We held the line just a little bit, and no one is going anywhere.”

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