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Left embraces foreign cash influencing key ballot measures


Adapted and reposted with permission.

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Left embraces foreign cash influencing key ballot measures

by Jason Snead, of the Honest Elections Project


Most Americans agree that our elections should be free of foreign influence.


Apparently, some Democrats feel differently.


This week, the Ohio Senate passed a landmark bill by Sens. Theresa Gavarone and Rob McColley to ban foreign influence in critically important ballot measure campaigns. The issue couldn’t be simpler. As McColley put it, “Are we against foreign money in elections or not?”

Democrats in the Ohio Senate answered unanimously: they are not. No issue should be more bipartisan than protecting elections from corrupting foreign influence. Polling shows the public overwhelmingly opposes foreign nationals playing a role in American politics.


So why is the left defending foreign influence in elections? Because they are benefiting from a half-billion dollars in foreign funds from billionaire activist Hansjorg Wyss. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/03/us/politics/hansjorg-wyss-money-democrats.html)


Wyss is one of America’s biggest political donors, even though he is not a citizen. According to a biography written by his own sister, Wyss aims to “[re]interpret the American Constitution in the light of progressive politics.” He is putting his money where his mouth is. As the watchdog group Americans for Public Trust exposed, Wyss exploits a complex web of left-wing “dark money” groups to inject nearly $500 million into left-wing causes, all while helping to conceal the foreign source of the funding.


A single group, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, has received $243 million. Part of the Arabella Advisors’ dark money network, Sixteen Thirty is a powerhouse of left-wing political spending.

NBC News reported that Sixteen Thirty spent nearly $200 million in 2022 alone “helping Democrats” win elections and “backing state ballot measures.”


Ballot issues are a major focus for the left. Initiatives are supposed to be a chance for citizens to directly check the power of government. But the left has focused on weaponizing them, reducing “citizen-initiated” ballot measures into a tool for left-wing activism — and a backdoor for foreign election influence.


Federal law, and the laws in most states, bar foreign contributions to candidates. But most states do not apply the same safeguards to ballot measure campaigns. That creates a huge loophole, one which foreign-funded groups like Sixteen Thirty are more than willing to exploit.


Since 2017, Sixteen Thirty has spent almost $80 million to influence 33 ballot measures in 18 states. Though it has spent on everything from abortion to Medicaid expansion, Sixteen Thirty has concentrated most of its largest contributions on voting measures. According to figures compiled by Ballotpedia, the group spent $3.5 million fighting voter ID in North Carolina, nearly $4 million to give Florida felons the right to vote, and over $6 million to bring error-prone automatic voter registration to Nevada.


In Michigan, Sixteen Thirty spent $6 million to take redistricting powers away from the Republican-controlled legislature, then followed up with over $11 million to enshrine a left-wing rewrite of Michigan’s voting laws in the state’s constitution — a one-two punch that helped turn the state blue.




In fact, Sixteen Thirty was the leading funder for Michigan's Proposal 2 ballot initiative in 2022, enshrining no voter ID into Michigan's constitution: 


In September 2023, Michigan Fair Elections funded a lawsuit in which 11 Michigan legislators sued the governor, secretary of state, and bureau of elections for usurping their constitutional authority to determine the "times, places, and manner of elections." The case is in U.S. Federal Court and a ruling is expected soon. 


Issues this important should be free of any trace of foreign influence. It’s already illegal for foreign nationals to donate to candidates. Ohio’s SB 215 simply applies that same protection to ballot measure campaigns. It is hard to imagine a more bipartisan issue.


But with this week’s vote in the Ohio Senate, Democrats are signaling they are perfectly willing to let the foreign influence flow, so long as it helps them. For a party that has railed against foreign election interference, the hypocrisy is astounding — but hardly surprising.

After all, the left is perfectly comfortable with “Zuck Bucks” schemes that pump private funding and left-wing politics into election offices.


The Biden administration is preparing to use tax dollars to finance a get-out-the-vote operation that is partisan in all but name. And liberal groups like the Sixteen Thirty Fund are happy to spend a quarter-billion dollars in foreign money to influence American politics.

For the left, it’s winning uber allies.


Voters deserve elections they can trust, and that begins by protecting them from foreign influence. Ohio is showing us how to protect ballot measure campaigns from corrupting foreign influence.


Every state should follow suit.


Jason Snead is the Executive Director of Honest Elections Project


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