Special Report

BREAKING: Arabella-Aligned Groups Sued for Racial Discrimination, Violating Civil Rights Laws

Lawsuit alleges Arabella’s virtue-signaling is all for show.


The largest member of DC’s most powerful liberal lobbying force is facing legal action from a former employee for discrimination and wrongful discharge, according to filings posted with the DC Federal Circuit Court on October 28.

Sarah Walker is a government affairs consultant who until recently worked as vice president of advocacy for the election “reform” groups Secure Democracy, a 501(c)(4) lobbying group, and Voting Rights Lab, a front for the 501(c)(3) New Venture Fund.

The Arabella Network

New Venture Fund (2020 revenues: $975 million) is the top nonprofit in the $1.7 billion “dark money” network run by the consultancy Arabella Advisors, which Capital Research Center first exposed in 2019. New Venture and Arabella’s additional four in-house nonprofits are fueled by grants from the Left’s wealthiest foundations, donors, and special interests. The five nonprofits specialize in funneling grants to activists pushing the envelope on everything from abortion on demand to the Green New Deal to mass voter registration in Democratic Party bastions.

The Arabella network also runs a fleet of “pop-up” groups, or websites designed to look like grassroots organizations that are really just fronts for DC “dark money.” Voting Rights Lab is one such pop-up created in 2018 to fight voter ID laws, expand early voting, oppose efforts to clean up states’ voter rolls, and conduct vote-by-mail polling research for the left-wing National Vote at Home Institute.

According to the lawsuit, Secure Democracy “was established in 2018 . . . in order to work with Republicans on voting rights issues and to maintain a distance from the Democratic Party–affiliated work of VRL [Voting Rights Lab].”

Secure Democracy was headed by Heather Smith, who until recently led the liberal voter registration nonprofit Rock the Vote. At least one beneficial owner listed on public filings comes from the Elias Law Group, the partisan firm of Democratic superlawyer Mark Elias.

Alleged Civil Rights Violations

New Venture Fund’s website declares that it “envision[s] a more equitable world” and “unapologetically” and “fearlessly” integrates “race equity, equity, diversity, and inclusion” into its work culture while “encouraging others to do the same.”

That “progressive public image . . . did not translate to a progressive work environment,” according to Walker, the African-American woman who brought the lawsuit.

She alleges that Secure Democracy and New Venture Fund (the “fiscal sponsor” of Voting Rights Lab) discriminated against her and other “female employees of color” by “paying them less than their white counterparts, denying them equal opportunity for advancement, and denying them equal access to benefits.”

The leadership of both groups was overwhelmingly white. Walker, the sole non-white vice president, claims that despite her senior position she was given “little insight into [Secure Democracy’s] budget” and barred from access to payroll information, so she “did not know who was actually on SD’s [Secure Democracy’s] payroll.”

“The white VRL [Voting Rights Lab] employees had access to contractors that SD employees of color did not,” the lawsuit adds.

Under New Venture Fund’s fiscal sponsorship, Voting Rights Lab co-founders Megan Lewis and Samantha Tarazi allegedly lied to staff that they would be eligible for disability and life insurance when they weren’t eligible for such benefits. At least one white employee was hired full-time by New Venture Fund under the pretense that she would receive disability benefits. Two non-white employees were reportedly not given that option.

Walker, who suffers from lupus, an incurable chronic disease, was similarly denied basic health accommodations granted to another white vice president who also has lupus.

Secure Democracy and the Voting Rights Lab leadership “constantly reminded [Walker] of her racial identity.” She was made to act as an unofficial “race coach” for Liz Avore, the groups’ white vice president of law and policy, who “struggled to supervise her two direct reports, who were Black females.”

This obsession with “race and racial dynamics” directly affected Avore’s job performance, who reportedly chalked up an African-American employee’s poor work quality to Walker’s “racial microaggressions” against her. Avore allegedly told Walker she didn’t understand the African-American employee “because you have lighter [black] skin.”

Unethical Practices

In mid-2020, Lewis allegedly told several “employees of color” at Secure Democracy that “they should be doing more work to get their issues in the media” and compared them “unfavorably to white VRL employees who were getting strong favorable media stories.” Walker later discovered that the “favorable media stories came from one of VRL’s communications contractors who was paying reporters to write stories” under the table.

The lawsuit also alleges that New Venture Fund and Secure Democracy “jeopardiz[ed] their tax exempt status” by using Voting Rights Lab funds to “unlawfully subsidiz[e]” Secure Democracy’s operations “with tax-deductible donations.” (Donors may deduct on their income taxes contributions to a 501(c)(3) charity, but not to a 501(c)(4) group.)

According to Walker’s complaint, after she spoke up about the continued discrimination and tax-status violations, New Venture Fund and Secure Democracy “swiftly retaliated against her” by first placing Walker on administrative leave in November 2021 and firing her less than a year later.

Around the same time as Walker’s initial suspension, the leaders of Secure Democracy completely dissolved it as a legal entity. Yet roughly two weeks later, the group was reincarnated as a separate 501(c)(4) nonprofit called Secure Democracy USA in mid-November 2021. Public filings reveal that this successor group and Arabella’s New Venture Fund “entered into an agreement with [Secure Democracy] to acquire SD’s assets and liabilities.” (Secure Democracy USA is also listed as a defendant in Mrs. Walker’s lawsuit.)

In August 2022, the lawsuit says, New Venture Fund’s legal counsel announced that it no longer fiscally sponsors Voting Rights Lab, although the latter is still listed as a trade name on New Venture’s public filings with the District of Columbia.

Choppy Waters Ahead

Walker also alleges New Venture Fund and Secure Democracy engaged in “intentional tax violations” that indicate the groups “are simply unconcerned about following the law.”

We expect more details about the case to emerge in the coming months, and we hope that Arabella’s activities receive the scrutiny they deserve from government officials responsible for overseeing nonprofits.

 

For more on the Arabella network, see our latest coverage: Is the Arabella Network Telling the Truth About Itself?(October 2022).

Hayden Ludwig

Hayden Ludwig is a Senior Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. He is also a columnist at the Washington Free Beacon and writes regularly for the American Conservative. Ludwig is…
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