The head of the conservative Heritage Action for America boasted to donors in April about the organization's influence in passing voting laws in Georgia and other states this year.
Caption
The head of the conservative Heritage Action for America boasted to donors in April about the organization's influence in passing voting laws in Georgia and other states this year.
Credit: John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

The director of the conservative Heritage Action for America claims the lobbying organization played a pivotal role in some of the most controversial provisions in Georgia’s sweeping new voting overhaul.

In a leaked video shared with the liberal-leaning magazine Mother Jones, Heritage Action Executive Director Jessica Anderson boasted of the organization’s influence over Georgia and other states’ voting laws during an April 22 donor summit in Arizona. Heritage Action is the lobbying arm of the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. 

Anderson told donors that Georgia’s new law contains Heritage Action’s recommendations for absentee drop boxes, banning third-party donations to run local elections, increasing partisan poll monitoring access, and more.

Anderson also said she urged Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to quickly sign the bill or run the risk of appearing “weak” to many of his constituents. Kemp, who faced the ire of former President Donald Trump for not supporting his unfounded claims that the presidential election was stolen, signed the voting bill into law the same evening it passed.

Since then, Kemp has staunchly defended the election law against the voter suppression accusations and corporate backlash. His office did not respond to a request for comment Friday. 

“At the end of the day, the bill that Gov. (Kemp) signed and the Georgia legislature marshaled through had eight key provisions that Heritage recommended,” Anderson said in the private meeting.

But Heritage’s claims about its level of influence shaping Iowa’s voting law has been met with strong rebuke by GOP officials there. And in Georgia, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan said Friday that Heritage Action didn’t help write election legislation that originated in the Senate chamber. 

The final version of Georgia’s election law was an amalgamation of Senate Republicans’ sweeping measure and Harlem Rep. Barry Fleming’s House Bill 531 and other smaller pieces of legislation.

According to Mother Jones, Fleming, who moved the election bill through his special election integrity committee, told donors he credited Heritage for its support throughout the contentious debates. An attempt to reach Fleming for comment was unsuccessful Friday. 

Fleming has faced pressure to resign as an attorney in some of the small city and county governments he represents in Georgia.  

“I can tell you, back in February, I felt like some days we were alone in Georgia,” Mother Jones reported Fleming saying at Heritage’s donor summit. “And then the Heritage Foundation stepped in, and that began to bring us a boost to help turn around, get the truth out about what we were really trying to do. And I’m here in part to say thank you and God bless you.”

The release of the leaked video elicited condemnation from the Georgia Democratic Party and Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight, saying it proves that Georgia’s bill was part of a coordinated national effort to pass restrictive voting measures and that a special interest group was a key driving force. 

Those laws are based on the false claims that widespread fraud cost Trump another term, although Republican lawmakers have repeatedly claimed the measures are designed to restore public confidence in elections.

“Though Georgia Republicans claim they care about election integrity, this video exposes them as mere foot soldiers for right-wing Washington insiders hell-bent on suppressing voters and rigging our democracy. Georgia deserves leaders who take their cues from the people, not from the special interest powers that be,” said Rebecca Galanti, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia.

But Heritage Action hasn’t been quiet about its role in shaping voting laws this year. Immediately following SB 202’s March 25 passage, Heritage released a statement lauding Georgia for providing a replicable model for the nation. The group also hired four lobbyists this session, with most of them brought in about a week before the Senate gave the bill final passage. 

Anderson credited Heritage’s partnering with more than 20,000 activists in Georgia to work with lawmakers “every step of the way” as the bill moved through the Legislature.  

Heritage Action also announced last month that it planned to spend $1 million on advertising to promote Georgia’s bill as major companies like Delta and Coca-Cola spoke out against it.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.