Organization Trends

Coastal Billionaires and “Dark Money” Groups Push for National Popular Vote in Michigan

For years prominent figures on the left have been calling for the abolition of the Electoral College, believing that presidential elections should be strictly democratic, decided solely by the national popular vote (read more here). Since abolishing the Electoral College would be extremely hard, activists set their sights on a much softer, but arguably more sinister goal. Instead, many Democrat-controlled states have passed legislation to guarantee that the state’s Electoral College votes will be allotted to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote, regardless of which candidate actually wins the state.

As of right now, 15 states and District of Columbia have passed national popular vote laws, accounting for 195 electoral votes. With just 75 more electoral votes, national popular vote laws would effectively abolish the Electoral College.

Advocates for the national popular vote have recently set their sights on Michigan, and a new ballot question political action committee (PAC) called YES on National Popular Vote of Michigan has already been formed and funded to generate support for a national popular vote push in Michigan. Interestingly, though, very little of the PAC’s support seems to be coming from Michigan.

Coastal Billionaires Meddle in Michigan

Since its creation in September 2021, YES on National Popular Vote of Michigan has reported receiving roughly $723,000 in total contributions. Less than 1 percent of that money came from Michigan residents.

According to campaign finance disclosures, most of the money came from YES on National Popular Vote, a 501(c)(4) political advocacy nonprofit or “dark money” organization, that successfully backed Colorado’s national popular vote ballot measure in 2020. According to Michigan’s records, YES on National Popular Vote sent $309,000 to YES on National Popular Vote of Michigan in October 2021, just a month after the group was created. According to Colorado’s records, however, YES on National Popular Vote was terminated with $0.00 left in February, eight months prior. It is possible that only the group’s status as a registered political group in Colorado was terminated, while the organization as a whole remained active, but nothing in Colorado, Michigan, or IRS records clears up that confusion.

Putting the group’s hazy legal status aside, YES on National Popular Vote’s donors in 2021 are still untraceable. In 2020, Colorado’s campaign finance database shows that the group received huge donations from powerful DC-based “dark money” organizations, but no information is available for 2021, and the $300,000+ that arrived in Michigan.

During 2020, YES on National Popular Vote (the Colorado organization) received $250,000 from the North Fund and $147,000 from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, both 501(c)(4) wings of the gargantuan DC-based Arabella Advisors network, which takes in cash from donors and distributes it to the Left’s activist groups in order to conceal the original source. In 2021, nonprofits controlled by Arabella Advisors raised $1.6 billion and funneled it toward numerous left-wing political activist groups and fiscally sponsored “pop-up” groups that give the appearance of grassroots activism while existing mostly on paper. YES on National Popular Vote also received a whopping $948,000 from Josh Jones and $405,000 from Sage Weil, both billionaire co-founders of DreamHost, an e-commerce web hosting company. Apparently, the pair were passionate, but quiet supporters of the national popular vote in Colorado, and potentially Michigan, though neither actually lives in either state. (Jones lives in California, and Weil lives in Wisconsin.)

YES on National Popular Vote is only half of the funding story for YES on National Popular Vote of Michigan, but the other half doesn’t reside in Michigan either. YES on National Popular Vote of Michigan has received generous funding from a variety of coastal millionaires and billionaires as well.

John Koza, a wealthy computer scientist and chairman of National Popular Vote (a separate 501(c)(4) organization) contributed $259,000 from California. Sarah O’Neill, daughter-in-law of Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger, contributed $50,000 from New York City. Joseph Steinberg, a New York investment banker, tossed in another $40,000. Alex Rigopulos, a billionaire residing in Massachusetts who brought the world Guitar Hero, chipped in $25,000, as did Dagmar Dolby, California’s billionaire heiress of the Dolby fortune. According to Federal Election Commission (FEC) databases, most of these donors also give generously to the Democratic Party, Democratic candidates, and notorious faux-Republican activist groups like the Lincoln Project.

Aside from a few small-dollar donations, YES on National Popular Vote of Michigan is supported entirely by “dark money” groups and billionaires from outside Michigan. In fact, most of the donations come from densely populated states like California and New York, the very states that would determine the winners of Michigan’s presidential elections if national popular vote takes effect.

Who Gets Paid?

YES on National Popular Vote of Michigan has already used its wealth to accumulate a small army of lobbyists and consultants, many of them conservative.

A group called Conservatives for National Popular Vote, for example, has recently become very active in Michigan. The group, led by Dennis Lennox, Patrick Rosenstiel, and Dr. Kent Kaiser, doesn’t seem to exist outside of a defunct Colorado PAC registration and a website, but it has apparently succeeded in garnering Republican support. Many former Republican officials in Michigan recently signed a letter supporting national popular vote legislation, spearheaded by longtime political operatives like Saul Anuzis and Michael Steele. But this fervor surrounding the national popular vote might not be entirely organic.

Campaign finance records show that Coast to Coast Strategies, the consulting firm of Anuzis and Steele, has received $133,000 from YES on National Popular Vote of Michigan, while Anuzis himself has received $14,652 and a combination of Steele Group (a consulting firm created by Michael Steele) and Michael Steele himself received a total of $31,752. Meanwhile, Dennis Lennox of Conservatives for National Popular Vote has received $63,105 from the group. This means that many of the leading conservative voices pushing the national popular vote in Michigan are being paid by coastal Democratic mega-donors and Democrat-aligned “dark money” groups.

It is important to note that sources of funding alone should never be used to discount a person’s arguments, but this pattern of funding certainly raises questions.

Michigan’s Democratic consultants have also earned hefty consulting fees from the group. Jody Weissler DeFoe, the treasurer for YES on National Popular Vote of Michigan and chief deputy treasurer for Oakland County, has received over $19,000 in consulting fees from his own group, and Adaptive Strategics, a consulting firm owned by former Michigan Congresswoman Rebekah Warren, has received over $39,000.

The Left’s Election Wishlist

The push for national popular vote in Michigan is almost entirely funded by left-wing billionaires and “dark money” groups from outside the state. In fact, most of the money is coming from the very states that would benefit most from drawing Michigan into the national popular vote fold.

Michiganders should be wary of the forces at play in their state and question whether there might be more to the push for national popular vote than meets the eye.

Parker Thayer

Parker Thayer is a Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. A native of Michigan, he recently graduated from Hillsdale College.
+ More by Parker Thayer