Following former President Trump’s 2020 election loss and the related surge in election-related conspiracy theories, Republican-controlled states have introduced and passed a tidal wave of restrictive voting laws. As the New York Times reported, based on material provided by Documented, these measures were not just a response to organic grassroots activism. Instead, these bills were shaped and promoted by a small number of well-resourced dark money groups, many of which saw their funding surge as they shifted their focus to “election integrity” in the wake of Trump’s Big Lie.
Some of those groups are led by MAGA Republicans who sought to overturn the 2020 election, and who are now working to shape the rules for future elections. For example, Cleta Mitchell, the veteran lawyer who supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, is playing a central role in coordinating the activities of the far-right groups advocating for changes to state election laws.
As state legislatures convene for 2023 and lawmakers again propose a record-breaking number of restrictive voting laws, Documented is profiling some of the key groups promoting policies to restrict the freedom to vote.
These organizations have pushed for restrictive new voting laws in the years since Trump's 2020 loss, and are active in state legislative sessions in 2023:
- Cleta Mitchell's "Election Integrity Network" has organized coalitions of far-right grassroots activists in swing states staffed with people fully committed to election conspiracies. The “Election Integrity Network” was incubated by the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), the $45 million MAGA institution led by former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows. After recruiting thousands of election workers and poll watchers in the 2022 election cycle, Election Integrity Network coalitions are now mobilizing far-right activists to advance restrictive voting policies in key states.
- The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) and its advocacy arm, the Opportunity Solutions Project, have emerged as key drivers of state policies that undermine the freedom to vote. FGA is not a grassroots operation; instead, it provides technical expertise and support to state lawmakers and advocates in dozens of states. The group claims to have “achieved more than 70 election integrity policy wins across 19 states” in 2022, and boasted of “65 [election reform] policy victories across 14 states including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Texas” in 2021. FGA also crafts messaging guidance through its in-house polling firm, the “Center for Excellence in Polling.”
- Heritage Action, the advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation, is spending tens of millions of dollars pushing for restrictive state voting laws by hiring lobbyists, promoting “model election laws,” mobilizing state-based activists, and running TV and digital media campaigns. The group planned to spend $24 million in 2021-22 to push anti-voter policies in eight states, and one-third of the 68 voting bills filed in Georgia in 2021 contained policy measures and language that aligned closely with proposals from Heritage Action.
- The Honest Elections Project (HEP), a group founded by powerful conservative activist Leonard Leo, is generating polling, messaging, and research support for the “election integrity” cause, and also working closely with state lawmakers through groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). HEP also uses the courts to restrict access to voting—which is particularly notable given that its founder, Leo, helped engineer the right-wing takeover of the judicial system.
In 2023, these organizations are supporting partisan efforts to limit mail-in voting, eliminate ballot drop boxes, ban ranked-choice voting, and to empower conspiracy-minded activists to challenge voters and election officials.
Mitchell's “Election Integrity Network” is playing a key convening role, connecting state activists with experts at national groups like Foundation for Government Accountability and Honest Elections Project. State activists are encouraged to connect with these national groups for model bill language, talking points and messaging, expert witnesses and testimony, and other outside support.
These are not the only organizations active in the “election integrity” space. For example, wealthy donors like Mike Lindell and Patrick Byrne have spent countless millions since 2020 backing fringe “election integrity” projects and organizations. Other groups, like True the Vote and entities associated with lawyer Sidney Powell, have cashed in on election fraud lies, raising millions of dollars off of false promises to reveal widespread fraud or to overturn election results. These efforts have helped spread outlandish conspiracy theories and undermined faith in America’s voting system, but have done little to meaningfully change election laws or practices.
In contrast, the organizations profiled here—Conservative Partnership Institute, Foundation for Government Accountability, Heritage Action, and Honest Elections Project—have taken a more sophisticated approach. Rather than filing frivolous lawsuits or launching quixotic bids to ban voting machines, these four organizations are methodically directing MAGA activists and politicians to change the laws and policies governing our freedom to vote.
These four organizations have sought to harness the political energy generated by right-wing election conspiracies and direct it towards enacting policies that undermine the freedom to vote and that may help MAGA Republicans grab power.