Wisconsin is one of a handful of states on Heritage Action’s voting-restriction target list

By: - May 19, 2021 6:44 am
"Vote Here" sign (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Vote Here (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

A video obtained by the investigative group Documented, and published last week by the magazine Mother Jones, shows the director of the right wing group Heritage Action for America telling donors at a gathering in Tucson, Arizona, about the group’s efforts to push voting restrictions throughout the U.S. by providing model legislation to state legislatures in battleground states, including Wisconsin.

“We are going to take the fierce fight that is in every single one of our bellies to right the wrongs of November,” Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action for America, says in the video.

Wisconsin is one of a handful states the group singles out on a website it created, SaveOurElections.com. On the “take action” page it urges support for a half dozen Republican-sponsored bills in Wisconsin that place limits on absentee voting, allow poll watchers to be in closer proximity to voters and other “reforms” the group claims “add confidence to the voting process.”

Heritage Action for America is a registered lobbying organization in Wisconsin for the current legislative session. The Wisconsin Ethics Commission’s Eye on Lobbying page lists its areas of interest as “Legislation to increase election security by prohibiting outside money funding election administration, requiring more information verification to request an absentee ballot, and improving voter ID requirements.”

In the video, Anderson praises controversial voting bills in Georgia and Arizona, which she and other speakers repeatedly describe as efforts to make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

Anderson also specifically names Wisconsin, along with Georgia, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, Iowa and Michigan, saying “we have honed in on these eight specific focus states because they are battleground states. They are politically significant. And if two or three went a different way in November, we would be having a different conversation here today.”

In each of these states, she says, Heritage has provided a “research guide” to state legislators to tell them “which are the bills that need to be introduced and how to move them through their state Legislature.”

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“Iowa is the first state that we got to work in,” she says. “And we did it quickly and we did it quietly. Honestly, nobody noticed. Why? Because Iowa doesn’t have a big bullseye on its back the way Georgia does,” she says. 

In what Anderson describes as a “huge victory,” she says Heritage specifically inserted three provisions into Iowa voting laws, including vetting voter lists, cross referencing voter records with other states and purging inactive voters from the rolls. “My team looked at each other and were like, it can’t be that easy,” she says.

Mother Jones reports that Democrats in the Iowa state House of Representatives filed ethics complaints against Heritage Action and its sister organization, the Heritage Foundation, on Tuesday, stating that the group is not registered to lobby in Iowa. Top Iowa Republicans also told Mother Jones they never worked with Heritage.

But Republican sponsors of Georgia’s voting law, state Rep. Barry Fleming, who says he lost his job as county attorney in Georgia’s rural Hancock County after championing the controversial measure, and state Sen. John Albers, who was fired from his law firm, appeared on stage with Anderson in Tucson, where she publicly thanked them for being “election integrity champions.” The legislators, in turn, thanked Heritage for its invaluable support. “I can’t right now say thank you enough for the support the Heritage Foundation has given us,” Albers said. “I can tell you back in February I felt like some days we were alone in Georgia and then the Heritage Foundation stepped in and that began to bring us a boost to help turn around, get the truth out about what we were really trying to do. And I’m here in part to say thank you and God bless you.”

The new voting law in Georgia, which Anderson says she personally urged Gov. Brian Kemp to sign immediately or he would “look weak,” limits ballot access. Among other provisions it imposes strict new rules and time limits for requesting absentee ballots, removes the secretary of state from the state’s election board and increases the Republican Legislature’s control over that body, drastically reduces the number of ballot drop boxes, and makes it a crime to offer food or water to voters waiting in line to vote. (Heritage is running an ad insisting that the new laws do not amount to voter suppression and that it is not illegal for counties to offer water to voters. A provision of the law permits election officials, but no one else, to “make available self-service water from an unattended receptacle to an elector waiting in line to vote.”)

After pushing the bills, the next phase in Heritage’s nationwide effort to change voting laws around the country is an advocacy campaign, Anderson says. Television ads promoting voting restrictions are on the air in Georgia and Arizona. Recently the group made a Facebook ad buy in Wisconsin.

In addition, “we’ve been able to put everyone together on a Tuesday call where we literally give marching orders for the week ahead for groups like SBA List [the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List] and AFP [Americans for Prosperity] and Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks.”

The calls help ensure that these groups are “singing from the same song sheet of the goals for that week and where the state bills are across the country,” Anderson says. “From there, as we create this echo chamber, we’re working with these state legislators to make sure they have all the information they need to draft the bills. In some cases, we actually draft them for them.” Sometimes Heritage uses members it calls “sentinels” in the states, she adds, to act on the group’s behalf, “to give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots from-the-bottom-up type of vibe.”

“We’ve also hired state lobbyists,” Anderson says, “to make sure that in these targeted states we’re meeting with the right people.”

While the group is touting its successes in Georgia and Arizona, where Republican governors have recently signed restrictive voting measures into law, Anderson adds that Wisconsin, among a handful of swing states where Democratic governors are likely to veto such legislation, are still a top priority.

“Now, there are other states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. We don’t have governors’ offices there that are going to sign these bills,” she says. “We’re still going to move them. We’re going to put the marker in the state legislatures of what the states need to do to tackle their reforms and to get these laws done. And we’re going to do it with an eye that all of this needs to be safe and secure by the time we’re at 2022.”

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.

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