Earlier this week, One Wisconsin Now revealed an alleged voter suppression plot designed to disenfranchise minorities, students, and others in heavily-Democratic areas of the state. At the center of this apparent “voter caging” operation that we reported on yesterday is the Wisconsin chapter of Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. While the allegations of potentially illegal conduct leveled against Americans for Prosperity, the Wisconsin Republican Party, and other tea party groups are extremely serious, a ThinkProgress investigation reveals an even larger and more insidious effort by Koch-backed groups to tamper with the democratic process.
While a federal crime, the most essential voting issues, from registration and eligibility to specific early and Election Day voting procedures, are largely governed by state law. Even before becoming involved in the apparent plot to suppress the vote in Wisconsin, a web of Koch-backed groups played a key role earlier this year in defeating a proposed Wisconsin law that included numerous voter protection measures—including significant penalties for efforts to unlawfully challenge and intimidate voters. In fact, those at the center of the alleged voter suppression plot were caught on tape in June admitting that they could only proceed with their so-called “Election Observer Program” because they had successfully blocked the Voter Protection Act from passing earlier in the spring:
“And since the voter law did not get passed this year that could hit you with $100,000 and three years for unsuccessfully challenging a voter, we can still do this,” said Tim Dake, a prominent tea party member with the Wisconsin GrandSons for Liberty, the group that provided cover for Americans for Prosperity and the Wisconsin GOP by agreeing to be the public face for the campaign.
“Hallelujah,” shouted an unidentified meeting attendee in response.
“Yes, everybody gets to take credit for that,” replied Dake, before decrying early voting and detailing purported instances of voted fraud committed by individuals with Vietnamese surnames.
Tellingly, the Voter Protection Act provision that Dake references only criminalizes acts that “make use of or threaten to make use of force, violence, restraint, or any tactic of coercion or intimidation in order to induce or compel any person to vote or refrain from voting or to refrain from registering to vote at an election.” It also put in place less severe penalties for attempting to prevent someone from registering or voting “based upon fraudulent, deceptive, or spurious grounds or information.” If the goal of their “Election Observer Program” was simply to weed out ineligible voters and notify the proper authorities of any issues—rather than the deliberate use of intimidation and other tactics to suppress votes—it’s unclear why Dake and his compatriots would have been concerned about this provision or considered it an impediment to their plans.
Whether they were concerned about the bill’s voter protection provisions, numerous other provisions designed to make it easier to register to vote and to vote early or absentee, or the provision that implemented a federal law that makes it easier for military voters—including troops serving overseas—to cast ballots, right-wing activists derided it as the “Voter Fraud Protection Act,” an ACORN-Style Election Fraud Act,” and the “election deform bill.”
Regardless of the exact source of their concerns, a network of Koch-backed groups swooped in earlier this year and succeeded in killing the bill. Here’s a look at the key Koch-backed players that pushed for the defeat of the Voter Protection Act: Read more