Organization Trends

The Election Trust Initiative

The lack of organizational support for elections administrators is a travesty, and public distrust of election results is dangerous, or so the Left says. That’s why a handful of megadonors have taken it upon themselves to spend over $100 million on supporting election administrators and building up the public’s trust in elections. Never mind that the enormous spending of one left-leaning billionaire on election administration in 2020 is one of the main reasons for the current environment of election skepticism, the billionaire-funded Election Trust Initiative (ETI) is here to help.

What does ETI do? Well, it’s hard to say for certain.

ETI was incorporated as a fiscally sponsored project under the auspices of Pew Charitable Trust, meaning the group does not independently file public disclosures. The ETI website is almost the only place where information about the group is available, but the information is not exactly comforting.

The Donors

On its “About” page, ETI describes itself as “a nonpartisan grant-making organization working to strengthen the field of election administration.” To do that, ETI says it has received a $25 million commitment from each of four donors: the Klarman Family Foundation, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trusts.

The Klarman Family Foundation is the private foundation of Seth Klarman, the billionaire hedge fund manager of the Baupost Group. The Klarman Family Foundation has donated to numerous election-related advocacy groups in the past. In 2022 alone, on top of sending $25 million to ETI, the Klarman Foundation gave $1 million to the infamous Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), $200,000 to the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), $1 million to the Center for Secure and Modern Elections (CSME), $5 million to the Voter Engagement Fund. While his foundation backs up the truck for these supposedly nonpartisan election-specific nonprofits, Seth Klarman himself has donated millions of dollars to Democrat-aligned political action committees (PACs). In 2023–24 alone, Seth has already given Democrat PACs over $2 million, and his total contributions to Democrat PACs dating back to 2016 exceed $20 million. Meanwhile, Seth’s niece, Rachael Klarman, runs Governing for Impact, a left-wing group that has been caught secretly advising the Biden administration on regulatory policy with great success.

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation—the private foundation of the late Peter G. Peterson, who served as secretary of commerce under Richard Nixon—is a much more moderate grant maker. The organization could be classified as center-left or libertarian under the leadership of Peter’s son, Michael, and its grantees represent a healthy mix of ideological leanings. The group’s tax forms, however, don’t show any money being given to ETI or its sponsor, Pew Charitable Trusts. The Peterson Foundation website confirms the foundation is partnered with ETI, but how the promised $25 million in funding is being distributed is unclear. It’s some small comfort, though, that a generally moderate organization is involved.

The third sponsor, on the other hand, is perhaps one the most radically left-wing foundations in existence. The Hewlett Foundation, established in 1996 by William Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, has a reputation for funding a wide range of radical left-wing activist groups specializing in abortion, environmentalism, labor policy, and anti-capitalist economic policy. It also gives generously to “nonpartisan” groups directly concerned with the administration of elections. ETI itself received $5 million in 2022, CTCL received commitments of $1 million, CEIR received $500,000, and the Election Administration Resource Center received commitments of $1 million.

The last donor is Pew Charitable Trusts, ETI’s fiscal sponsor. Pew is generally considered a left-leaning organization, though much less so than the Hewlett or Klarman Foundations, but it has a troubling record of taking funding from left-wing donors to establish fiscally sponsored projects that have become highly controversial and influential in the field of election administration.

The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) was established as a fiscally sponsored project of Pew in 2012 with the intention of creating an easy electronic system for states to digitally maintain and audit their voter rolls. It was created with $725,000 in funding from George Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society and was led by David Becker, a former left-wing activist at People for the American Way and current head of Center for Election Innovation and Research. Today, opinions on ERIC vary widely. Both red and blue states count themselves as ERIC members, but many Republican governors and election integrity advocates have expressed suspicion of ERIC’s ties to left-leaning organizations and its sharing of voter roll information with David Becker. As a result at least eight states had withdrawn from ERIC as of May 2023. While there is heated debate about whether the suspicion of ERIC is actually warranted, the fact remains that many voters don’t trust it because of its ties to left-leaning donors and activists.

One would think Pew might have considered that particular bit of its own history before plowing ahead with a $100 million project like ETI, but the limited information available about the group suggests otherwise.

What Is ETI Doing?

ETI’s structure as a fiscally sponsored project of Pew Charitable makes it difficult to see ironclad legal disclosures of what organizations the group funds, how much it gives them, and the staff members it pays, but ETI’s website features a list of employees and grantees.

Ashley Quarcoo, ETI’s executive director, has worked for a host on nonprofit organizations focused on international peace and democracy including the Partnership for American Democracy, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Considered an expert on elections, Quarcoo wrote often about the challenges of the 2020 election. In an October 2020 an article, she praised the efforts of “civil society organizations” mobilizing to ensure that the 2020 election was “inclusive, credible, and peaceful.” She singled out the Election Integrity Partnership with praise for facilitating “real-time exchange between universities, election officials, government agencies, civil society, and social media platforms to detect and mitigate election-related misinformation and disinformation.”

Journalist Matt Taibbi later exposed in the Twitter Files that the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) was created at the request of and worked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its subagencies to engage in “necessary” censorship that the government “lacked both kinda the funding and the legal authorizations” to do. Governmental shadow censorship isn’t the sort of thing that usually builds “election trust,” but Quarcoo seemed to love it and was somehow already very aware that EIP was working with government agencies to advise social media platforms on what to censor.

Quarcoo was also not shy about picking a side in the 2020 election, writing, “The reelection of Trump would cement a trajectory of decline that began well before his presidency but has dramatically accelerated since. . . . But even a peaceful election and a clear Biden victory is not assured to bring us back from the brink.” If that’s not enough evidence that EIP’s executive director might have a favorite in the upcoming 2024 rematch, campaign finance records show that Quarcoo donated over $700 to Biden for President in 2020 and hundreds more to exclusively Democrat campaigns dating back to the Obama 2012 campaign.


According to ETI, its primary function is to work as a grant distributor. While the group doesn’t file its own financial disclosures, it at least publishes a list of the organizations it has funded, although not how much funding.

One of the first organizations on its list is the aforementioned EIP, a project of the Stanford Internet Observatory with deep ties to the Department of Homeland Security. Pew Charitable Trust’s 2022 form 990 shows that Stanford received six unlabeled grants from Pew totaling over $700,000 that year while the University of Washington, one of the other partners in EIP, received two grants totaling $300,000. It’s unclear how much of that funding, if any, was directed toward EIP work, but given ETI’s large budget it’s possible that all of it was meant for EIP.

Also on the list is the Bipartisan Policy Center, which received $125,000 from Pew Charitable in 2022. According to the ETI website, the Bipartisan Policy Center was paid to convene a council of election administration staffers and generate a set of policy recommendations for elections in the future. The report, published in April 2023, called for no-excuse vote by mail in all 50 states, eliminating identity verification measures for mail-in ballots like witness signatures and ID number verification, and generally increasing funding for election administration.

Other groups receiving ETI funds included the Elections Group, a group of “experts” that advises elections workers on the best ways to conduct audits, verify signatures, and cure ballots; the National Association for Media Literacy Education, which made digital communications toolkits for election offices to communicate with voters; the National Conference of State Legislatures, which expanded its database of elections-related legislation; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Election Data and Science Lab, which conducted a 2022 survey on the performance of elections, examined flaws in election-night reporting systems, and developed methods to perform better analysis of election administration in the future.

Fighting Fire with Gasoline

Millions of voters began to distrust elections in 2020 (in part) because left-leaning nonprofits were so involved in the process. From getting registered to get-out-the-vote mailers down to election administration procedures and the funding of election offices, it suddenly appeared that every component of the election process was being funded with “philanthropic” money from billionaires who were also Democratic megadonors. The enormous influence wielded by “nonpartisan” groups like ETI is the cause of much of the distrust in the first place. For proof, look no further than the 27 states that have passed legislation to ban or regulate the use of private funding in election administration. While ETI has wisely pledged not to administer grants to municipal election offices, it seems determined to push as close to that line as humanly possible. It’s like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

Parker Thayer

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