June 11, 2012

Revealed: Secretive Group Working To Suppress Voting In Maine Funded In Part By Wisconsin Businesses

Across the country, state lawmakers have pushed forward bills to lower democratic participation. State after state have adopted laws that criminalize voter registration drives, limit the ability of low-income people and college students to vote, and otherwise restrict qualified voters from casting a ballot. As Republic Report revealed earlier this week, the controversial purge of Florida voters is tied to a slush fund of secret cash from corporate executive bents on spending $1 billion in political funds this year. The shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) helped advance anti-voter laws until a mass exodus of its corporate members forced the group to retreat.  But there’s evidence that big business is getting involved in the act from other sources as well.

In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage (R) approved a bill that ended same-day voter registration in Maine. Residents challenged the law last year in a referendum, but a mystery donor contributed $250,000 to the effort to campaign seeking to keep the law on the books. The referendum ultimately passed, and the voter suppression law was repealed. But questions remained about the source of the secret anti-voter registration cash.

As ThinkProgress’ Scott Keyes reported, a disclosure filed after the election revealed that a single 501(c) group, called the American Justice Partnership, provided the entire $250,000 check. But like so many other political groups, AJP appears to be a front, an organization set up simply to conceal the true donors. Who put up the money?

AJP has refused to tell the public about its donors.

Republic Report has found some of the money going into AJP, the group that tried to prevent same-day voter registration in Maine. And it’s a surprising source: Wisconsin.

Tax forms from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Issues Mobilization Council Inc. show that the group, which is run by corporations like the Boldt Company and Wausau Paper, provided at least $865,000 to the group:

Revealed: Secretive Group Working To Suppress Voting In Maine Funded In Part By Wisconsin Businesses
The disclosure shows that the Wisconsin business group gave American Justice Partnership the money to support “shared mission of educating the public about business issues.” But this vague description is applied to every grant. For more clarity, we asked Jim Pugh, a communications executive with the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce group. “Our 990 form speaks for itself,” he wrote back. “Thanks for your interest.”