'Nonpartisan' Group Attempting to Influence NY Congressional Election Has History of Supporting Democrats

Antonio Delgado (L) and John Faso (R) / @nyitwitter/The Times Union
October 29, 2018

Voters in New York's 19th Congressional District have received misleading mailers about the district's Republican nominee from the Center for Voter Information, a Washington, D.C.-based group that sells itself as "nonpartisan" but has a long history of supporting Democratic candidates.

The group sent out mailers to residents in upstate New York with the names of Rep. John Faso (R., N.Y.) and his Democratic opponent, Antonio Delgado, along with their supposed policy positions on Medicaid, access to firearms, and health care coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions. After listing the policy positions, the group wrote, "We have done our best to represent each candidate in a fair and reasonable way."

The Faso campaign slammed the mailer in a press release on Monday, saying "the D.C. liberal shadow group" was attempting to influence the congressional election. The campaign then marked up the original mailer in red ink as a fact check on the original mailer. They argued all three policy positions that the group attributed to Faso were "false."

"John Faso has always voted for and supports guaranteed coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions (H.R. 1121)," one of the fact checks read. "Antonio Delgado supports government-run health care system that would eliminate employer insurance, end Medicare as we know it and double your taxes."

"This deceitful group and this mailer perfectly encapsulate the underhanded tactics of Nancy Pelosi and Antonio Delgado. By masquerading Democratic attacks in a mailer that looks more like a bill or government correspondence, this group has attempted to trick voters into thinking this information is truthful," said Joe Gierut, Faso's communications director. "In reality, this is just another ploy used by Democrats in their desperate attempt to win this race and put Nancy Pelosi in the Speaker's chair."

The signatory on the mailer is Lionel Dripps, who has a history of working for Democratic causes. Dripps' current role is listed on Linkedin as the managing director for program and digital at the Voter Participation Center (VPC), a 501(c)(3) organization associated with the 501(c)(4) Center for Voter Information. Page Gardner, VPC's president and founder, is also the principle officer at the Center for Voter Information.

Dripps previously served as the vice president of the Pivot Group, a Democratic campaign mailer firm founded by Trish Hoppey, who is considered "one of the top Democratic direct mail consultants in the country." He also served as executive director of the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund and was regional director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, according to his Linkedin profile.

The entirety of the Center for Voter Information's expenditures in the current election cycle have been spent against Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The center labels the non-profit "liberal."

During the 2018 election cycle, the group has sent out over 270,000 absentee ballot applications across the country and spent over $92,000 against Republicans in Pennsylvania and California. While the "liberal" group does not disclose its donors, the Center for Responsive Politics shows the group is a vendor of NextGen Climate Action, a political action committee associated with liberal billionaire Tom Steyer. The PAC has made seven payments to the Center for Voter Information totaling over $1.7 million since last October.  The most recent payment was made in August. The Center for Voter Information has also donated over $26,000 to Americans for Patriotic Values, a progressive PAC.

Outside of New York's 19th District, the group has been cited causing confusion and implementing shady tactics in numerous states across the country, including Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Earlier this month, State elections officials in Wisconsin warned voters about absentee ballot applications being sent out by the Center for Voter Information, according to to News 3.

A voter from Oregon contacted News 3 to say that information she received in a mailer sent by The Center for Voter Information included her incorrect name and, while she lives in Oregon, directed her to send her ballot application to the village of Prairie Du Sac.

Nancy Warner said she got the mailing Tuesday and immediately checked out the contents of the letter, which was from a group she hadn't heard of. The letter was addressed to her but used two incorrect middle names.

Warner said she has lived and voted in Oregon for many years, but the information already filled out on her ballot application and on the prepaid return envelope said she would vote in the Village of Prairie Du Sac.

The Austin Daily Herald also reported last month that the Mower County Auditor’s Office in Minnesota experienced an increase in "confused voters" coming to the government center concerned about applications sent to them by the Center of Voter Information.

"We’re afraid that if they send that application in, we’re required to give them an absentee ballot," said Steve Reinartz, Mower County treasurer and auditor. "They cannot vote in the polling place again on Election Day. They won’t be able to vote, and may create some confusion if they have never voted absentee before."