Here we go again.
Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money, purports to expose another plot by the Right to take over American politics and governance. This time, the so-called “dark money” trail leads to The Bradley Foundation, a private grant-making organization that we lead as chair and president.
Mayer paints a story in The New Yorker that The Bradley Foundation is orchestrating and funding an “aggressive assault on democracy” by sowing doubt about the 2020 election results, paving the way for state legislatures to restrict voting laws, and laying the groundwork to challenge future election results.
In her piece and subsequent media interviews, she states that “since 2012, the foundation has spent some eighteen million dollars supporting eleven conservative groups involved in election issues.” Using this number is designed to mislead readers. Mayer appears to include all funding to a grantee even if election issues play a relatively small role in their work.
In addition, the Foundation does not make “dark money” grants. All grants are publicly disclosed on a quarterly basis.
It’s also absurd to suggest that the Foundation started making election-related grants in 2012 somehow knowing there would be a presidential election in 2020 with one candidate making allegations of fraud, as if we had a crystal ball. Bradley’s grants can never be used for political purposes — much less to overturn elections. All grants are made to nonprofits that are required to meet IRS guidelines that prevent them from engaging in political activity.
What does The Bradley Foundation fund with its grants?
In 2020, Bradley gave only $500,000 in grants to groups doing election-integrity work, all of which is routinely disclosed. It’s a significant sum, but nowhere near Mayer’s invented figure.
It pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars some groups on the left poured into election issues. It’s also small compared with the more than $10 million we gave to local arts, education, and community groups during that same period.
This giving is in keeping with our longtime mission to advance the principles of a free and vibrant society, and in turn preserve our constitutional democracy. We support efforts that encourage voter participation and give Americans the confidence that their votes matter.
Unfortunately, Mayer is not alone in perpetuating a false and dishonest media narrative that fuels greater distrust. In an era of cancel culture, even questioning whether the election system can be improved gets one labeled “conspiracy theorist.”
There are many genuine and valid reasons to want to ensure the integrity of elections.
The right to vote for candidates whose ideals best represent one’s own is a bedrock of the American experiment. Fair elections at every level, whether for school board, state representative, or U.S. president, are integral to the preservation of our republic. If our election system has integrity, we continue to have faith in the democratic process, regardless of who wins or loses an election.
Currently, concerns about election integrity are bipartisan and nationwide. According to a recent poll, only 55 percent of Democrats say they “completely trust” the election process. Clearly, there is work to be done to restore confidence.
It is reasonable for every election to go through a postmortem about what can be improved, but last year’s election merited even greater scrutiny. The pandemic and an increasingly polarized electorate guaranteed that 2020 would be an unprecedented election year.
And that it was.
Nearly half of voters cast a ballot by mail or absentee. Compare that with 2016, when only about a quarter of votes were cast by mail. Or the widespread ballot harvesting that occurred, which opens the door for activists on both sides of the aisle to tamper with or throw out someone’s ballot. Or the hundreds of millions of dollars from the Center for Tech and Civic Life that were given to the country’s most populous cities, which overwhelmingly vote left.
To be clear, questioning and assessing whether there are vulnerabilities within the election system is not equivalent to saying there’s rampant voter fraud or that the election was rigged. Rather, it’s a recognition that changing voting rules can — and have in previous elections — lead to numerous problems. Lost ballots, stolen ballots, and ballots sent to outdated voter rolls are all issues with common-sense solutions that still make it easy for people to vote.
As citizens of this exceptional country, our goal should be to have an election system that encourages voter participation, ensures that each person’s vote counts, and instills faith in the process. Sadly, Ms. Mayer’s inflamed and inaccurate reporting makes achieving that goal much more difficult.
Art Pope is Chair of The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Rick Graber is President and CEO of The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.