Kamala Harris Lawyer on the Board of Group Leading $30M Voting Effort for 2020

Priorities USA to 'expand voter rights' with litigation challenges

Sen. Kamala Harris / Getty Images
February 11, 2019

The top campaign lawyer for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) sits on the board of one of the largest liberal groups undertaking a massive $30 million effort to "expand voter rights" leading up to the 2020 elections.

Priorities USA Action, a Washington, D.C.-based group that threw its weight behind Hillary Clinton throughout the 2016 presidential cycle, announced that it will put tens of millions of dollars behind an effort to "fight Republican-backed laws that restrict ballot access," the Associated Press reports.

Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, told the AP that most of the money will go towards litigation and that the group will begin its efforts by focusing on Texas and Georgia. "We will look at where is the biggest harm being done and where our work can have the most impact," Cecil said.

Marc Elias, a partner at the D.C. office of the Perkins Coie law firm who acted as Clinton's top campaign lawyer, and who is now the top lawyer for the presidential campaign of Kamala Harris, quietly joined the board of Priorities USA's nonprofit arm in early 2017 to help the group lead its voter-related efforts. Elias was brought in as the group began to shift its focus to fighting state-level voter identification laws.

As part of the shift, Priorities absorbed Every Citizen Counts, a nonprofit created by Clinton allies that mobilized African American and Latino voters. The group announced at the time that it would build a national database to "serve as a one-stop inventory for restrictive voting measures" and would share that data with other progressive organizations.

This was not the first time Elias has helped with legal challenges involving voter efforts. Elias was involved in previous litigation against voting laws which received millions in funding from liberal billionaire George Soros.

Elias first began exploring voter ID challenges in 2014 and ultimately filed lawsuits against a number of state laws leading up the 2016 elections. Elias was acting as Clinton's top campaign lawyer at the time, although pushed the litigation in his personal capacity as an attorney at Perkins Coie. Clinton publicly backed the effort.

In Ohio, Elias included the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, a progressive organization, on a lawsuit filed on May 8, 2015, against the state's voter ID laws. An individual from the group was later investigated for voter fraud, including registering dead people to vote.

Elias submitted a motion in August 2015 to remove the group from the suit, which was granted in early September of that year. A source close to the Elias said that he did not have involvement with the group after it was replaced. The individual from the Ohio Organizing Collaborative was ultimately found guilty on numerous counts of fraud and sentenced to six months in prison.

Those voter efforts in states with Republican-controlled legislatures leading up to the 2016 elections were backed by at least $5 million from Soros.

"We hope to see these unfair laws, which often disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our society, repealed," Soros told the New York Times in 2015.

Soros had identified expanding the electorate by 10 million voters at a top priority, according to hacked documents released the next year. Soros was also the first funder of a large voter mobilization effort for the 2016 elections led by a coalition of progressive organizations.

Soros was one of the top donors to Priorities USA Action throughout the presidential cycle, giving $10.5 million to the group. Soros added $5 million to Priorities during the 2018 election cycle.

Priorities USA and Elias did not respond to inquiries on Elias's potential upcoming involvement with the multi-million-dollar campaign by press time.