Virginia House Passes Legislation in Response to Steyer GOTV Tactics

Billionaire's NextGen project gained student phone numbers through open records act

Tom Steyer / Getty Images
February 8, 2018

The Virginia House of Delegates passed legislation this week that would prohibit the release of student contact information through the state's open records act in response to a get-out-the-vote effort by one of California billionaire Tom Steyer's political projects.

Steyer is currently running television ads nationwide urging Democrats to impeach President Trump.

Radford University and Virginia Tech turned over names, addresses, and cell phone numbers of an estimated 40,000 students last October after NextGen Virginia, an offshoot of Steyer's national political PAC, filed freedom of information requests at public universities in the state for their student directories.

NexGen Virginia then sent out mass text messages to the students about voter registration and promoted various Democratic candidates.

Wednesday's 62-35 vote on the legislation had slim bipartisan support from Democrats. Those Democrats who voted "no" are supporting a different version of legislation aimed at the same issue, and the state Senate has passed a similar bill.

"Protecting personal student information is more important than furthering any political campaign, political activist group, or marketing effort," Delegate Tony Wilt (R., Rockingham) said in a statement.

Another delegate, Joseph Yost, called the acquisition of the student's phone data "creepy."

"I am appalled that NextGen Virginia, a political organization, would FOIA our students' personal information for political uses," Yost said in a statement. "This is an invasion of their privacy and, even if it is legal, it is blatantly wrong."

Steyer addressed rumors he might be running for office by saying in January he would not be a candidate in 2018. However, he also announced plans to spend $30 million on the midterm House races in an attempt to flip the majority back to Democrats.

The $30 million campaign in 2018 is about half of what Steyer spent in 2014.

Steyer has also plowed millions into smaller state races and ballot initiatives around the country in an effort to further his political goals related to environmental issues on climate change.