Investigation by Ben Weingarten originally published by RealClearPolicy and RealClearWire
GOP lawmakers and other conservative critics are working to expose and fight a secretive executive order by President Biden to expand voter participation in elections, which they suspect has become a powerful government-wide complement to private left-wing election financing that could tip the 2024 campaign illegally and unfairly in Democrats’ favor.
The president’s 2021 directive orders every federal agency to register and mobilize voters – particularly “people of color” and others the White House says face “challenges to exercise their fundamental right to vote.” It further orders the agencies to collaborate with ostensibly nonpartisan nonprofits.
Since issuing the order, critics claim, the Biden administration has stonewalled oversight efforts to scrutinize its implementation by often ignoring document requests and litigating to shield relevant records. The critics, including members of Congress, state officials, and government watchdog groups, say the executive branch is attempting to federalize elections with an end-run around constitutionally prescribed state control over voting.
Some have labeled the president’s order “Bidenbucks,” evoking “Zuckbucks” – Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan’s funneling of some $400 million through two nonprofits into election offices across the country during the 2020 election. Left-leaning think tank Demos, which in late 2020 drafted a blueprint for the order, estimates that it could generate 3.5 million new or updated voter registrations annually.
Critics say the order could violate laws including the Administrative Procedure Act, barring agency actions “in excess of statutory jurisdiction” and the Hatch Act, curbing political activities by federal workers.
Republican House members raised the alarm about this issue in a January 2022 letter requesting documents from administration officials, calling the order “nearly identical to a federal election takeover plan crafted by the radical left-leaning group known as Demos.” Months later, Demos revealed it had worked extensively with federal agencies as well as state partners to implement the order, noting that it did so “in close partnership with the ACLU and other allies.”
Conservatives say their fears of federal government collusion with supportive progressive groups appear to have already been substantiated. In ongoing FOIA litigation against the Justice Department, the Foundation for Government Accountability obtained an email between the White House Counsel’s Office and numerous agency officials regarding a July 2021 “Agency Listening Session” apparently led by “Civil and Voting Rights Organizations.”
The email includes a roster of “advocates,” including representatives from progressive groups such as the ACLU, the George Soros-affiliated Open Society Policy Center, and the Southern Poverty Law Center; labor unions including the AFL-CIO and AFSCME; and identity-focused organizations such as the Arab American Association, Black Voters Matter, and UnidosUS.
RealClearInvestigations contacted over a dozen prominent private groups supporting the order, some of which were represented at that meeting, but only one responded to its queries. The Project on Government Oversight, a self-described “nonpartisan independent watchdog,” indicated it had not met with federal agencies regarding the executive order, undertaken any activities to advance it, or planned to do so during this election cycle.
The organizations that did not respond ranged from the Center for American Progress to politically powerful public-sector unions, including the American Federation for Teachers, the National Education Association, and AFSCME. RCI also posed questions to Demos centering on concerns expressed by lawmakers and others about its involvement in the order – including a report that it helped the Indian Health Service register and mobilize voters. It did not respond.
“Promoting voter registration and participation – i.e., mobilizing voters – is an inherently political act for a partisan president,” Tarren Bragdon and Stewart Whitson of the Foundation for Government Accountability wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed. “The resulting efforts can be directed at groups expected to vote for the president’s party and may take the form of pressure to support the party or its policies.”
The Biden administration has refused to produce agency-specific strategic plans that would comprehensively capture the order’s scope and has remained largely silent about which third-party groups agencies it is coordinating with to execute the order, and on what grounds – a key area of concern among the directive’s critics.
RCI asked a White House spokesperson why the administration was withholding the strategic plans. RCI also asked if the administration would share details about agencies’ coordination with third-party groups, and how the administration would respond to concerns that the order codifies a de facto Democrat get-out-the-vote effort. The White House did not respond.
The Republican-led House is seeking to neuter the executive order via appropriations. As currently drafted, the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill would defund the order. Perhaps more significantly, the House Administration Committee recently introduced the American Confidence in Elections (ACE) Act, which it touts as “the most conservative election bill to be seriously considered in the House in a generation.”
The ACE Act would seem poised to pass the House given the support shown by leadership, including its sponsorship by Speaker Kevin McCarthy and its more than one hundred other co-sponsors. But, as Roll Call noted, “its outlook is bleak in the Democrat-controlled Senate.”
Investigation by Ben Weingarten.
This article was adapted from a RealClearInvestigations article published July 31.
This article was originally published by RealClearPolicy and made available via RealClearWire.