Months after the 2020 election was complete and weeks after Joe Biden had been inaugurated, one of the leading principals who managed the selective distribution of election grants in Pennsylvania embarked on a post-game analysis to see “what worked and what did not” with the money doled out to county election offices throughout the commonwealth.
That person, Marc Solomon, didn’t do the analysis himself, however. Instead, he hired Fernandez Advisors, according to emails obtained by Broad + Liberty.
Fernandez Advisors, based in New York City, caters to some of the most influential and deep-pocketed leftwing organizations in the world, including John Podesta’s Center for American Progress, George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, and the Tides Foundation.
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The discovery is yet one more link of how deeply the Pennsylvania grant effort was intertwined with the professional, partisan left.
The Chicago-based nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life distributed the grants to about two dozen Pennsylvania counties as well as to the Department of State totalling more than $25 million in the runup to the 2020 election.
Solomon, a paid political consultant with a New York City-based firm, was not contracted to work on behalf of the CTCL, however. As Broad + Liberty has previously established and reported, Solomon was working on behalf of the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, even though the CSME was never officially announced as any kind of partner in the project to the public.
The email is notable because Solomon doesn’t ever reference the CTCL, the marquee name cited in hundreds if not thousands of news articles about the election grants. Instead Solomon references the “Cities Project.”
According to publicly listed donations for two philanthropic foundations (the Joyce Foundation and the Blaustein Foundation), the Cities Project was a project under the New Venture Fund. The New Venture Fund is the flagship political arm of the Arabella Network, which The Atlantic magazine called “The Massive Progressive Dark-Money Group You’ve Never Heard Of.”
The Cities Project was also mentioned in government emails in Green Bay, as well as in Philadelphia, in relation to the CTCL grants.
Hayden Ludwig, a senior investigative researcher for the conservative Capital Research Center, says the information gleaned from this post-game analysis from Fernandez Advisors will likely now be shared widely across the political left.
“We know the Left runs highly sophisticated voter registration models based on mountains of data. That research always gets disseminated to all of the major funders and GOTV groups active each election cycle,” Ludwig said. “It seems that these activists are now branching into directly manipulating public elections offices through private grants and ‘training’ programs, which they first tried in 2020. The overarching goal is the same: Register and turn out as many Democratic voters as possible, either in-person or by mail-in ballots.”
Solomon, the CSME, and New Venture Fund did not respond to a request for comment.
While the CSME was less visible in the 2020 elections effort, it has become more noticeable recently. For example, the Republican Party of Wisconsin is suing Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson over his public support for a get-out-the-vote effort called “Milwaukee Votes 2022” which is being underwritten by a $1 million grant from the CSME.
Other documents recently obtained by Broad + Liberty point to still more ethical questions about the grants.
One of the first emails in which the CTCL was in touch with the Philadelphia Office of City Commissioners about the grants also included Brandon Evans in the email chain.
The disclosure errors by both the PAC and the Krasner campaign combined to cause a lack of public transparency about how the embedded staffers were being paid.
Evans wears many political hats as the campaign director for Mayor Jim Kenney and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, but also as the political director for Real Justice PAC, the PAC co-founded by racial-justice activist Shaun King.
Real Justice PAC has been fined twice for violating campaign finance laws in its support of Krasner.
In the last round of fines, Real Justice PAC agreed to pay $30,000 and Krasner’s campaign $10,000 because Evans — while serving as Krasner’s campaign manager — wasn’t paid by the Krasner campaign. Instead, the Krasner campaign paid Real Justice PAC for consulting services, and Real Justice PAC paid Evans for his campaign manager work.
“While such an arrangement is legal, Ethics Board Executive Director Shane Creamer said the campaign finance reports filed by both organizations made it impossible for the public to understand,” the Inquirer reported about the fines. “The campaign’s reports described payments to the PAC for a variety of costs — ranging from travel and lodging expenses to Evans’ pay — as ‘Political Consulting.’ Some reports from the PAC, meanwhile, provided no details on its spending for Krasner.”
Creamer told the Inquirer: “There was no way for the public to know how the Krasner campaign was paying the PAC for staff, including its campaign manager Brandon Evans, and for other services. The disclosure errors by both the PAC and the Krasner campaign combined to cause a lack of public transparency about how the embedded staffers were being paid.”
Philadelphia’s Office of City Commissioners did not provide any response to questions from Broad + Liberty, including whether it was ethical to have a campaign operative involved in some of the day-to-day business of an elections office such as election grants that would be used to execute the 2020 election.
Evans and the CTCL did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
Pennsylvania passed a law this summer banning gifts of grants to election offices, a push led largely by Republicans but which sometimes enjoyed bipartisan support. Although Gov. Wolf had denigrated the intentions of the bill, he nevertheless signed it into law as part of a larger compromise on the state budget.
Update: The first published version of this article mistakenly spelled Shaun King’s first name as Shawn.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports