A ‘Well-Funded Cabal’ Influenced the 2020 Election—What Lies Ahead in 2024?

A ‘Well-Funded Cabal’ Influenced the 2020 Election—What Lies Ahead in 2024?
(Illustration by The Epoch Times, Getty Images, Shutterstock)
January 30, 2024
February 08, 2024
News Analysis

While former President Donald Trump appears to be cruising toward the GOP nomination with a polling lead over incumbent President Joe Biden in key swing states, Republicans will likely face a much steeper climb in the general election than they realize.

Fundamental changes in state election laws, coupled with an alliance of left-wing federal, corporate, financial, and nonprofit entities, have handed the Democratic Party advantages that the GOP may be unable to overcome.

In the decades before 2020, the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Democratic National Committee (DNC) machines each had their own unique strengths: The RNC had the money and the DNC had the troops.

As noted in the book “The Victory Lab,” an analysis by political journalist Sasha Issenberg, Republicans excelled at fundraising and spent heavily on messaging through paid television, radio, and online ads. The DNC, with its voters often concentrated in urban centers, called on its foot soldiers, most notably students and union leaders, to go door-to-door and stir up support.

In 2020, the landscape shifted in the wake of two events: The COVID-19 pandemic and the death of George Floyd in police custody. A narrative emerged that existing state voting laws had to change because they were racist and hazardous to public health.

The 2020 ‘Shadow Campaign’

In a laudatory 2021 article in Time titled “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election,” author Molly Ball detailed a “well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage, and control the flow of information.”

While praising the effort, Ms. Ball said that the actors “were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it.”

The “conspiracy,” as Ms. Ball described it, included DNC operatives, union leaders, tech and social-media companies, Wall Street bankers, and a network of nonprofit donor funds that pooled hundreds of millions of dollars to finance “armies of poll workers and got millions of people to vote by mail for the first time.”

While the coalition’s purpose, ostensibly, was “saving democracy,” the overriding goal was to keep President Trump from winning a second term.

And the “well-funded cabal” appears to be gearing up for a repeat performance in 2024, with a few new twists.

An editor looks at the official Twitter account of President Donald Trump in Los Angeles on May 26, 2020, with two tweets by the president under which Twitter posted a link reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” (-/AFP via Getty Images)

The DNC and groups allied with them rely on a five-part strategy to ensure that President Trump didn’t then and will not now get a second term.

That strategy includes intense legal pressure on state election officials to loosen voter integrity laws, a data nerve center that contains personal profiles of voters to predict how they will vote, an alliance of left-wing foot soldiers to bring out Democratic votes in key swing states, a collection of groups capable of bringing violence and mass unrest to cities and towns if called upon, and a network of financing vehicles to fund it all.

The first order of business, once the “well-funded cabal” was assembled, was to change state election laws.

Rewriting Election Rules

Following the mantra to “never let a crisis go to waste,” a nationwide campaign of DNC-sponsored lawsuits forced many states, even some with Republican governors, to drop what had once been standard voter integrity practices.

“That effort involved voiding basic security protocols on election procedures, including absentee ballots, and pushing for the equivalent of all-mail elections, which would give their activists a free hand in pressuring, coercing, and influencing voters in their homes in ways they are unable to do in polling places,” political analysts John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky wrote in their 2021 book titled “Our Broken Elections.”

“To force these changes, they ended up filing more election-related lawsuits than had ever been filed in an election year in U.S. history,” the authors said.

Perhaps the most enticing of all the electoral opportunities presented by the pandemic and civil unrest was the advent of universal, unsolicited mail-in ballots, which are still in use in some states.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 43 percent of American voters cast their ballot by mail in 2020, compared to 21 percent who did so in 2016.

In their book, Mr. Fund and Mr. von Spakovsky wrote that “the flood of millions of mail-in ballots opened the system to unprecedented confusion and largely untraceable fraud.”

“There’s a reason that a bipartisan commission co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter in 2005 called mail-in absentee ballots the ‘largest source of potential voter fraud’ and that most countries in the European Union have banned ‘postal voting’ over the same concerns,” they wrote.

Poll workers receive vote-by-mail ballots in a drive thru system setup at the election headquarters polling station in Doral, Fla., on Oct. 19, 2020. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
The topic of election fraud has become sharply politicized, with conservatives insisting that it’s a significant enough problem to sway the outcome of elections, and left-wing groups insisting it isn’t. 
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, keeps an ongoing database of cases of voter fraud, documenting 1,500 cases to date and 1,276 criminal convictions. The group stated that illegal voting has resulted in election results being overturned in at least a dozen races.
However, the left-leaning Brookings Institution stated that what’s recorded in the Heritage database “may sound like big numbers, however ... the findings encompass more than a decade of data during which, nationally, hundreds of millions of votes have been cast.” 
In December 2023, Rasmussen Reports and The Heartland Institute conducted a survey of more than 1,000 voters regarding how they cast ballots in 2020; responses were evenly split between Republican and Democratic voters, and 30 percent of respondents said they voted by mail. 
Of the respondents who voted by mail, 21 percent said they had done so in a way that, whether they were aware of it or not, violated election laws. This includes filling out ballots for friends and relatives and forging other people’s signatures on ballots.
“We asked if they voted by mail in a state in which they are no longer a permanent resident, which is voter fraud,” Justin Haskins, a director at the Heartland Institute, told The Epoch Times. “About one in five respondents who voted by mail in the 2020 election said yes.”
The survey also found that 8 percent of respondents said a friend, family member, or organization offered to pay or reward them for voting in the 2020 election.

The Privatization of State Voting Systems

The “voter suppression” narrative, which gained acceptance throughout many parts of America, played to the strengths of the Democratic Party.

“Because the tax code allowed nonprofit organizations to run registration and turnout drives as long as they did not push a particular candidate,” Mr. Issenberg wrote, “organizing ‘historically disenfranchised’ communities became a backdoor approach to ginning up Democratic votes outside the campaign finance laws.”

One example of what Mr. Fund and Mr. von Spakovsky call the “privatization” of state election systems by wealthy donors, is the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a group that is nominally nonpartisan but led by Democrat activists.

CTCL received $350 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, ostensibly to protect the health of voters and election officials during the pandemic.

These “Zuckerbucks,” as they have come to be known, were channeled through CTCL into 2,500 mostly liberal jurisdictions to pay for new polling locations, ballot drop boxes, “voter education” centers, and campaigns to reach non-English-speaking voters, according to the authors.

In one instance, CTCL gave $10 million to the city of Philadelphia, whose entire election administration budget was $15 million before the grant. However, CTCL stipulated that the funds be used for “private printing and postage for mail-in ballots and to scatter ballot drop boxes,” the authors wrote.

A voter delivers his early voting ballot at drop box outside of City Hall in Philadelphia on Oct. 17, 2020. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

“CTCL’s intervention effectively greased the wheels for an unprecedented flood of largely untraceable, potentially fraudulent mail-in ballots submitted via private drop boxes throughout an urban stronghold for the Democratic Party with no official oversight or accountability after the fact,” Mr. Fund and Mr. von Spakovsky stated.

According to Brian Baker, a spokesperson for Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, “these nonpartisan donations were intended to help Americans safely vote during the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID pandemic. Every jurisdiction that applied for a grant received one, and CTCL’s public filings show that President Trump won more than 60 percent of the 2,500 jurisdictions in 49 states that received funding.”

Donations from CTCL weren’t spread evenly across the country but rather concentrated in swing states, according to analysts.

And as journalist Mollie Hemingway detailed in her 2021 book, “Rigged,” less than 2 percent of CTCL funds were actually spent on COVID-related protection equipment; most of the rest financed efforts by left-wing organizations to bring in more ballots, particularly in left-leaning jurisdictions within swing states.

“The five cities of Wisconsin that received Zuck Bucks outsourced much of their election operation to private liberal groups,” Ms. Hemingway wrote.

“In one case, the private group’s control was so extensive that a government official frustrated at being sidelined by Zuckerberg-funded out-of-state activists quit her job before the election.”

Georgia was a top target for Zuckerbucks, receiving 9 percent of the funds despite having only 3 percent of America’s population, according to a report by the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA). And within Georgia, CTCL money was doled out predominantly to Biden-voting districts.

“While Zuckerbucks-receiving counties [in Georgia] won by Donald Trump were granted nearly $2.3 million—at a rate of $1.91 per registered voter—Joe Biden counties that received Zuckerbucks were given nearly $29 million, at a far higher rate of $7.13 per registered voter,” the report reads.

“It’s targeted voter registration,” Stewart Whitson, FGA legal director, told The Epoch Times. “You don’t have to worry about turning out more Republican voters if you focus your efforts in places where the vast majority of voters are going to lean left.”

Pennsylvania was a similar case.

According to a report by the Capital Research Center (CRC), “Trump counties [in Pennsylvania] received an average of $0.59 per capita, while Biden counties averaged $2.85 per capita.”

All five of the counties that received the most “Zuckerbucks” were won by Mr. Biden (Allegheny, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia), the report states, and those counties account for 81 percent ($17,993,405) of all grants to Pennsylvania.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan attend an event in Mountain View, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2019. (Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize)

“It’s not ‘everybody votes,’” Scott Walter, CRC president, told The Epoch Times. “It’s ‘the right people vote in a half dozen states that we really care about so we can seize power in Washington.’”

In Arizona, CTCL efforts succeeded in increasing voter turnout for both parties but heavily favored Democrat-voting counties, Mr. Fund and Mr. von Spakovsky wrote.

CTCL-funded counties increased GOP votes by 46 percent more than Arizona districts that didn’t receive Zuckerbucks but increased DNC votes by 81 percent, they said.

Voter Integrity Becomes Politicized

The risk of voter fraud, such as it is, is exacerbated by the fight to end practices such as requiring voter ID, verifying signatures on mail-in ballots, and cleaning up voter rolls to remove those who have died or moved out of state.

Analysts say that, despite the fact that the United States isn’t currently in the grip of a pandemic, the practice of widespread, unsolicited mail-in balloting continues, particularly in key swing states.

“Compared to pre-2020 elections, [state] laws are still far less secure in terms of election integrity than they were prior to COVID, and the biggest reason for that is that many states have now adopted plans that allow for widespread mail-in balloting,” Mr. Haskins said.

“Among the swing states, which is really where the election is going to be decided, very little has been done to improve the security of mail-in balloting.

“The reason for this is that in many of those states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, governors are in office who do not support strong election integrity laws, so legislatures have struggled in those states to pass legislation.”

Electoral workers inspect a ballot during the vote-by-mail ballot scanning process at the Miami-Dade County Election Department in Miami on Nov. 3, 2020. (Chandan Khanna/Getty Images)

Governors in most key swing states, including Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, and Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, are Democrats.

Since the 2020 election, 29 states, including Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, have passed laws banning payments of private money to state election systems, according to the FGA.

“It’s keeping private funding out of the one part of elections that is supposed to be nonpartisan, and that is election administration,” Mr. Whitson said.

In Michigan and Wisconsin, however, Democrat governors vetoed the legislation.

According to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice, an affiliate of New York University, 14 states enacted a total of 17 election laws in 2023 that the Center deemed “restrictive,” while 23 states enacted 53 laws that the report deemed “expansive.” 
And the tug-of-war between states that want to tighten or loosen election integrity laws often fell along party lines. 
“Virginia has recently fluctuated between enacting restrictive and expansive policies depending on which party has been in power,” the report reads.
When Democrats controlled the Legislature and governor’s office from 2020 to 2022, they passed expansive laws, but when Republicans gained control from 2022 to 2024, they “sought to roll back some of these reforms.”
While the Brennan Center report characterizes this as a conflict between those who want to encourage voting and those who want to suppress it, the more likely underpinnings of the conflict have less to do with altruism versus malice, and more to do with which voting laws will generate more ballots for which party.
Supporters for President Donald Trump demonstrate outside of the TCF Center to protest the counting of votes for the 2020 general election in Detroit on Nov. 6, 2020. (JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Banning Trump and ‘Bidenbucks’

In addition to the tug-of-war over voter integrity laws, a new legal effort has arisen in the past year; namely, removing President Trump from ballots altogether. Legal challenges to President Trump’s candidacy have been filed in more than 30 states thus far.

And while the influence of Zuckerbucks and the like may be waning as the 2024 election looms, federal money directed by the Biden administration, called “Bidenbucks,” appears to be taking its place.

In place of the hundreds of millions donated by wealthy individuals, the federal initiative includes potentially unlimited taxpayer funds, which the FGA calls “Zuckerbucks on steroids.”

In 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 14019, titled “Promoting Access to Voting,” which directed federal agencies to take on the role that “Zuckerbucks” had filled in 2020; namely, registering voters with the assistance of nongovernmental third-party interest groups.

According to the U.S. Constitution, election administration falls within the jurisdiction of state legislatures, but the Biden administration is working to federalize elections by executive order, having failed to do so through legislation in Congress, according to Mr. Whitson.

President Joe Biden (C) and Vice President Kamala Harris (C-left) walk through the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

Another component of the coalition’s strategy has been controlling narratives with the collaboration of partisan actors, media, and tech companies. The 2020 coalition pressured social media companies to cancel what DNC operatives said was “misinformation.”

According to Ms. Ball’s article in Time, “Laura Quinn, a veteran progressive operative who co-founded Catalist ... piloted a nameless, secret project, which she has never before publicly discussed, that tracked disinformation online and tried to figure out how to combat it.”

Ms. Quinn and other DNC affiliates pressured social media companies to track and remove information that the Democratic Party said was false, Ms. Ball wrote.

This effort likely included the suppression of reports by the New York Post in October 2020 regarding incriminating evidence on the laptop computer of Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden.
Although these reports were subsequently confirmed as true, they were immediately blocked by social media companies and didn’t become mainstream news until after the election.

‘Moving Masses of People’

Another component of the DNC strategy was coordinating social unrest, organized by groups such as Protect the Results, the Democracy Defense Coalition, and the Fight Back Table.

Ms. Ball quoted Angela Peoples, a director of the Democracy Defense Coalition, who said that in preparation for an unfavorable outcome to the 2020 election, “we wanted to be mindful of when was the right time to call for moving masses of people into the street.”

When Mr. Biden was declared the winner, however, Protect the Results announced that it “would not be activating the entire national mobilization network today, but remains ready to activate if necessary,” Ms. Ball wrote.

Her story concludes by stating that “the members of the alliance to protect the election have gone their separate ways.”

But financial filings by a number of progressive nonprofit groups suggest that many of their efforts will be repeated in 2024.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the source of $350 million in funding for the Center For Tech and Civic Life. The Epoch Times regrets the error.