Tales From the Swamp: How a Republican Senator's Son Partnered With a Liberal Dark Money Group To Sink Voter ID Expansion

Andy Blunt / Wikimedia
May 18, 2022

A George Soros-linked dark money behemoth has a peculiar partner in its bid to sink voter ID expansion in Michigan—a group of Republican operatives led by a sitting Republican senator's son.

Over the past year, liberal dark money group Sixteen Thirty Fund has spent $2.5 million opposing a Republican-led petition drive to expand Michigan's voter ID requirements. Nearly $400,000 of that money has gone to Groundgame Political Solutions, a shadowy consulting firm that a trio of Republican operatives—including Sen. Roy Blunt's (R., Mo.) son, Andy Blunt—privately launched in May 2021, corporate filings show.

The firm, which Blunt first registered in Delaware before expanding it to 10 other states, functions as a stealthy subsidiary to Blunt's public-facing canvassing company, HBS+. The setup has allowed Blunt and his partners, fellow Republican operatives Gregg Hartley and Meghan Cox, to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars from deep-pocketed liberals without alienating their conservative clients.

The revelation shows just how far liberal operatives are willing to go to tank the ongoing voter ID expansion effort in the Great Lakes State. In at least one case, for example, the Sixteen Thirty Fund used its Republican allies at Groundgame to pay canvassers tens of thousands of dollars not to work on the issue.

That ploy saw Groundgame reach a November agreement with a Michigan petition gatherer that paid him $50,000 not to work on any "election reform" issue. Cox personally signed the contract, which the petition gatherer called a "scheme to pay off circulators not to engage" in the voter ID initiative. Just one day before Cox sealed the deal, Groundgame received a $56,000 payment from an equally shadowy political action committee, Protect MI Vote, that the Sixteen Thirty Fund bankrolls to fight voter ID in Michigan. According to campaign finance disclosures, that payment went to Groundgame through a Jefferson City, Mo., address registered to Blunt's consulting firm, Husch Blackwell Strategies.

Blunt, Hartley, and Cox did not return multiple requests for comment. All three have professional ties to Blunt's father. Blunt managed his father's Senate campaigns in both 2010 and 2016, while Hartley from 1997 to 2003 served as then-congressman Blunt's chief of staff. Cox, meanwhile, has directed field efforts for the Republican senator, her online bio states.

The three operatives teamed up to launch HBS+ on May 6, 2021. According to a press release announcing the move, which lists Cox as CEO, the firm exists to "create ballot access strategies and manage influence campaigns."

Just 13 days after the launch, business records show, Blunt, Hartley, and Cox registered Groundgame Political Solutions, LLC—an HBS+ subsidiary that the trio did not publicize—in Delaware. The operatives used a corporate compliance company to do so, which allowed them to keep their names off of the filing and distance themselves from Groundgame.

But Blunt, Hartley, and Cox went on to register Groundgame in 10 more states, some of which require filers to disclose more information about a company's leaders. In Florida and Texas, for example, Groundgame's filings name Blunt, Hartley, and Cox as directors and list the Missouri address the firm used to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars from Protect MI Vote. Similar filings in Nevada and North Carolina also name the three operatives and refer back to Groundgame's original Delaware registration.

Groundgame first accepted a $300,000 payment from Protect MI Vote in June 2021, just days after the Sixteen Thirty Fund-backed committee registered with Michigan's secretary of state. The committee exists solely to oppose Michigan Republicans' effort to expand voter ID laws through a signature gathering initiative—it hosts, for example, a "petitioner sighting hotline" that sends counter-organizers to areas where "paid petition circulators" are spotted.

If successful, the Republican-led initiative would require voters in the state to use their IDs or social security numbers to submit absentee ballots, among other provisions. Should the campaign gather roughly 340,000 signatures, Michigan's Republican-controlled legislature could approve the proposal in a manner that circumvents Governor Gretchen Whitmer's (D.) veto power.

Groundgame, however, has helped make that event increasingly unlikely. According to the Detroit News, Michigan candidates are struggling to collect signatures due to a canvasser shortage, an issue that Groundgame's scheme to pay petitioners not to work likely exacerbated. The firm's efforts to tank voter ID expansion in Michigan is at odds with its founders' rhetoric—Hartley has urged Washington, D.C., to "just say yes to better voter id!" and suggested voter ID laws would stop voter fraud.

"Dems keep claiming voter fraud doesn't happen. Voter ID not necessary," Hartley tweeted in 2016. "But this story suggests otherwise."

The Sixteen Thirty Fund, which is part of a vast liberal dark money network managed by D.C.-based consulting firm Arabella Advisors, is able to bankroll Protect MI Vote thanks to contributions from some of the world's richest liberals. Soros, a billionaire left-wing megadonor, gave the group nearly $10 million in 2019. Foreign billionaire Hansjörg Wyss has also contributed at least $12.4 million to the Sixteen Thirty Fund since 2010.