Clinton's Top Lawyer Joins Soros-Funded Super PAC to Fight Voting Laws

Marc Elias previously led Soros-funded effort attacking state voter ID laws

Marc Elias / AP
February 6, 2017

The top lawyer for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has joined the board of a major Democratic Super PAC funded by liberal billionaire George Soros to lead its efforts against state voting laws.

Marc Elias, a partner at the D.C.-based Perkins Coie law firm who is the go-to fixer for Democrats, has joined the board of Priorities USA Action, the largest liberal Super PAC that threw its weight behind Hillary Clinton.

Priorities tapped Elias as the group prepares to shift its focus on pushing back against state-level Republican efforts dealing with voting laws, CNN reports. Priorities will also absorb Every Citizen Counts, a nonprofit created by Clinton allies that focused on mobilizing Latino and African American voters.

Elias will spearhead Priorities USA's challenges against the voting laws from their nonprofit arm. The group is building a national database "that's intended to serve as a one-stop inventory of restrictive voting measures which will be shared with other progressive organizations," CNN reported. Additionally, Priorities plans to beef up its staff as it prepares to launch advocacy campaigns centered on their challenges.

Priorities USA pulled in $157 million in itemized individual contributions between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2016, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros is one of the PACs most generous donors.

Soros made three contributions to Priorities that totaled $9.5 million during the 2016 election cycle. Alexander Soros, George's son, has quietly stepped up as a major liberal donor and also cut a $1,000,000 check to Priorities.

This is not the first time Elias will fight voting laws in states with Republican dominated legislatures with the backing of Soros.

Elias previously led efforts against voter identification laws as he was acting as Clinton's top campaign lawyer. However, the efforts were done independently of the campaign and in his capacity as a partner at Perkins Coie.

Elias filed lawsuits in Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, and North Carolina challenging their respective voter ID laws. Soros fueled the challenges by throwing millions of dollars into the campaign.

Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a group that litigates to protect election integrity and has pushed back against Elias' efforts in court, said that Elias' record indicates that Priorities may not have made the best decision in bringing him onboard.

"Looking purely at his record of achievements in the 2016 cycle, this is not the best 'get' for Priorities USA," Churchwell told the Washington Free Beacon. "He took millions of Soros dollars to tilt at voter ID and early voting reform windmills in Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, and North Carolina and largely failed across the board. He didn't even shift public opinion. Despite his efforts, Ohio's early voting reform to better prepare for election day activities survived his court challenge. Virginia and Wisconsin's voter ID laws are still in place. If the Supreme Court decides to take North Carolina's voter ID case, there's a good chance the Voting Rights Act will be read as intended and the Tar Heel State will be allowed to join the rest of the industrialized world with respect to election integrity laws."

Churchwell said that liberal groups have complained about the likes of Priorities who they see as creating a "zero-sum market" for Democrats.

"Looking deeper now, Priorities' move to build out an election policy and litigation arm could likely hurt an already vulnerable ecosystem of groups advertising to help [minority] voters in need," Churchwell said. "In July 2016, minority voter outreach nonprofits like Mi Familia Vota and La Raza complained to the Hearst newspaper service that Democrat donors supporting groups like Priorities were creating a zero-sum market and choked election year budgets to roughly a fifth of what they were operating on in 2012. This can only add insult to injury."

"Finally, this move rips away the facade that the greater civil rights industry is nonpartisan by housing significant portions of funds and manpower in a Super PAC. You can't claim to stand for voting rights if you won't help the voter casting a ballot for the other candidate."

Hacked documents released last year showed that a top priority for Soros is to enlarge the electorate by 10 million voters by 2018, the Free Beacon discovered within the trove of files.

Soros' Open Society Foundation listed the top goals of the organization as advancing electoral reform and combating suppression.

"The Open Society Foundations supports efforts to encourage wider participation in U.S. elections, and opposes measures used to try to suppress voter participation," a spokesperson from Soros' foundation told the Free Beacon at the time.

Soros also donated $3 million to the Immigrant Voters Win PAC last year, which carried a goal of registering 400,000 new voters in swing states before the elections. Soros is the largest donor to the PAC, which pulled in $5.6 million in itemized individual contributions by the end of 2016.

The Immigrant Voters Win PAC took in $4.8 million more from committee contributions, filings show. Priorities USA gave $4 million of that amount.

Priorities USA and Marc Elias did not return requests for comment.