FLASHBACK: Steyer Voter Drive Earned Rebuke From State Lawmakers

'Campaign representatives sent mass texts to students'

Tom Steyer / Getty Images

A previous voter-registration drive in Virginia by billionaire political donor Tom Steyer later earned a rebuke from lawmakers after discovering Steyer's political action committee used state freedom of information laws to obtain thousands of contact records for college students in the state.

On Monday, the California liberal activist announced he would be giving $1 million to an effort to register younger voters ahead of this fall's elections in which Republicans and Democrats will battle over the GOP's slim majority in the state senate.

In late 2017, news reports highlighted that a Steyer-led PAC NextGen Virginia had obtained, "names, addresses and cellphone numbers of about 40,000 current students" in response to an open records request, according to the Roanoke Times.

"Campaign representatives sent mass texts to students at James Madison University last week informing them of the Democrat running in the local House district and asking if they need information on registering to vote locally, according to campus newspaper the Breeze," the Times also said.

A Republican-led effort emerged just months later as a bill was introduced that would stop the release of student contact information without consent. Democratic governor Ralph Northam signed the bill into law in April of 2018.

"This law will restore the basic privacy our students deserve and previously expected before last year," Republican State Senator David Suetterlein said at the time.

In the run-up to the 2018 elections, NextGen conducted voter drives aimed at younger persons in about a dozen states, including Virginia. According to the group's own statistics published online, the PAC attempted to make contact with potential new voters by knocking on about 100,000 doors, and ultimately reported signing up 24,788 people in the state.

Republicans hold extremely slim majorities in both the state house and senate, and all 140 seats will be on the ballot, according to Ballotpedia.org.