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The Dirty Secret Behind Republican Voter Suppression Laws Was Just Exposed
Rafael Anchía/YouTube

There's a reason why we are seeing so many similar voter suppression laws proposed and enacted so quickly, and why the bills' supposed authors often seem so ignorant about their own legislation: The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has been busy writing the bills for them and coordinating the legislation on a nationwide scale.

A leaked video, provided to Mother Jones, shows Executive Director Jessica Anderson of Heritage Action (the lobbying arm of Heritage Foundation) boasting to donors about legislation they wrote that would suppress votes in eight swing states, including Georgia, Iowa and Texas. Anderson says in the video, "We got the best practices to them. We helped draft the bills. We made sure activists were calling the state legislators, getting support, showing up at their public hearings, giving testimony."

She bragged specifically that the group penned key provisions in Texas's sprawling voter suppression bill, House Bill 6:

"We have 19 provisions in this bill that are written by the Heritage Foundation's experts and seek to tighten up and to secure the Texas elections."

This helps explain why Rep. Briscoe Cain, chair of the House Elections Committee and purported author of H.B.6, appeared to have difficulty answering basic questions about his own bill, including why a racist, Jim Crow era reference to "purity of the ballot box" was in it. Cain's apparent cluelessness about his own bill and its racist roots was captured in a viral video.

In light of the leaked video, an ethics complaint has now been filed by Progress Texas in that state because Heritage Action allegedly failed to register as a lobbyist group there.

Nor did they register in Iowa, where—according to the Des Moines Register—Heritage Action also claimed to have "worked quietly with the state legislators." After a complaint was filed in that state with the Iowa House Ethics Committee, the Heritage Foundation's manager of election law reform initiative, Hans von Spakovsky, issued a couched denial.

He said in a statement Tuesday.

"This is a frivolous, factually baseless complaint. I have not had any contact with members of the state legislature."

He failed to elaborate, however, on whether anyone else from his organization contacted state legislators in Iowa, and if so at whose direction.

As for Georgia, Anderson told donors that recommendations for absentee drop boxes, banning third-party donations to run local elections, and increasing partisan poll monitoring access were all provided by Heritage Action. She added that she personally had urged Republican Governor Brian Kemp to sign the bill quickly or run the risk of appearing "weak" to many of his constituents.

The press, Democratic legislators, and civil rights organizations may need to ask as a preliminary matter whether a given piece of voter suppression legislation is being pushed by Heritage Action or another lobbying group, whether the legislation was drafted by the putative authors or provided to them by an outside group, and whether such outside group is actually registered legally as a lobbyist in the state.

In the past, groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) drafted and pushed through legislation in state houses across the country on a variety of issues, from opposing gun control to incarcerating casual drug users. The impact of these bills on millions of lives has only recently begun to be documented and understood. Today, the Heritage Foundation apparently is using the ALEC playbook but going after voting rights even while seeking to avoid transparency.