Ethics group: Politics fueled quest to change voting rules

Posted: January 18, 2014

HARRISBURG Politics, not good policy, fueled the controversial push by Republicans in Harrisburg in 2011 to change the way Pennsylvania awards its electoral votes in presidential elections, according to a Washington-based ethics group.

The Pennsylvania nonprofit All Votes Matter spent tens of thousands of dollars lobbying elected officials to push the change. It was largely funded by out-of-state groups with ties to Charles and David H. Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankroll conservative causes.

That was the finding after an analysis by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

"I think there is proof now that it was a political effort," Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and the group's executive director, said Thursday. "It's not a debatable point."

All Votes Matter, which billed itself as bipartisan, threw its financial and political heft behind the bill that was authored in late 2011 by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) and supported by Gov. Corbett.

That measure sought to replace the winner-take-all apportioning of votes by awarding most of them to the winner of the popular vote in each congressional district.

Though it was eventually sidelined, the legislation caused an uproar. Democrats called it "vote rigging" and contended it was to help the Republican nominee in the 2012 presidential election. Some Republicans worried it would also spur Democrats to be more active against GOP congressional candidates in competitive districts.

At the time, the bill's supporters contended that the push had nothing to do with influencing the presidential election.

CREW found that five out-of-state conservative groups contributed at least $280,000 to All Votes Matter in 2011 and 2012. That was more than half the total the group reported raising over that period.

Charlie Gerow, a Republican political consultant and All Votes Matter's spokesman at one time, said in an interview this week that the group's efforts had nothing to do with partisan politics and everything to do with a good-faith concern for fair elections. He noted the organization had both Republicans and Democrats on its board, including William Sloane, a onetime attorney for House Democrats.

Gerow said he did not know where the group got its money.

"It's a stretch to say that there is some grand conspiracy," Gerow said.

Contacted by The Inquirer, Sloane said he was busy and would call back. He could not be reached for further comment.

Pileggi, through spokesman Erik Arneson, said All Votes Matter was not involved in his legislative effort, and reiterated that the bill was not political but designed to improve the electoral system.

According to state records, All Votes Matter began filing lobbyist disclosure forms in late 2011, shortly after Pileggi introduced the bill. Over the next year, it spent $426,727 lobbying elected officials in Harrisburg to get behind the bill, those records show.

At the time, All Votes Matter refused to disclose its donors.

"The donors are not public information and not required to be under the laws of the commonwealth," Gerow told The Inquirer in September 2011. "The donors prefer not to have our friends in the fourth estate contacting them every day."

Organized under the tax code as a 501(c)4, or a so-called "social welfare," organization whose mission is not primarily political, All Votes Matter was not required to reveal its donors. Such groups in recent years have come under intense scrutiny. Dubbed "dark money" groups, they have been criticized for their cloak of secrecy while spending unlimited amounts of money.

In the case of All Votes Matter, the staff of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics found its donors while poring through tax forms of other social welfare groups, said Sloan.

Those groups included Washington-based American Commitment and Iowa-based American Future Fund, which together gave All Votes Matter a total of $80,000 in 2011. Both organizations received money that same year from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a trade group associated with the Kochs, according to tax documents.

Another nonprofit, Arizona-based Center to Protect Patient Rights, gave All Votes Matter a total of $140,000 in 2011 and 2012. The group's founder, Sean Noble, a Phoenix-based GOP consultant, has been involved in the Koch brothers' political activities.

Americans for Responsible Leadership and Free Enterprise America, both based in Arizona, combined to donate $60,000. Watchdog organizations have linked both groups to the billionaire brothers.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics' Sloan said the findings highlight the need for states to pass laws to require social welfare groups such as All Votes Matter to disclose their donors and for citizens to pay close attention to who champions candidates or partisan causes.

To read CREW's full analysis, go to:

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