The Honest Elections Project (HEP) and Honest Elections Project Action (HEP) are a pair of organizations that operate together under the Honest Elections Project banner and work to advance more restrictive voting laws. Technically, HEP and HEP Action are fictitious names and sub-projects of the 85 Fund and the Judicial Crisis Network, respectively.
Leading up to and following the 2020 election, the Honest Elections Project engaged in numerous voter suppression and anti-democratic efforts. For example, the group launched a $250,0000 ad campaign to oppose mail-in voting ahead of the election and pushed for voter roll purges in Colorado, Florida, and Michigan based on misleading claims about “bloated voter rolls.”
In 2021, the Honest Elections Project held a series of conferences with state lawmakers and leading conservative advocacy groups such as ALEC and the Heritage Foundation to train them on implementing more restrictive voting legislation, such as mandatory voter ID laws, which disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters. As a result, by the end of 2021, more than 440 bills aimed at restricting voting access were introduced at the state level, and 19 states enacted some form of voting restriction.
In September 2022, HEP filed an amicus brief in Moore v. Harper – a case that will decide whether “the state legislative body, independent of any constraints by state courts or other laws, have sole authority to regulate federal elections” and has been seen by many commentators as a path to election subversion. HEP’s brief, in this case, pushed the independent state legislature theory – a fringe legal theory that gained steam among conservatives in recent years and threatens to wipe out most checks and balances regarding federal elections.
Using fictitious names is a legal tactic that allows the 85 Fund and Judicial Crisis Network to conduct business formally under alternate names. The 85 Fund itself has four registered fictitious names aside from Honest Elections Project, including its former name, the Judicial Education Project, as well as the Public Policy Seminar, Law and Policy Forum, and Free to Learn.
And the Judicial Crisis Network, though it publicly operates as JCN, is a fictitious name itself for the Concord Fund, which in addition to Judicial Crisis Network and Honest Elections Project Action also registered the fictitious names Free to Learn Action and Alliance for Consumers Action Fund. The Concord Fund/JCN is the public face of Leonard Leo’s nonprofit network and efforts to transform the courts. As a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization, JCN is exempt from federal income tax and can spend unlimited amounts of money on lobbying and some money on political campaign activities, unlike its 501(c)(3) counterpart the 85 Fund.
Jason Snead is the executive director of the Honest Elections Project, “head of HEP Action,” and a leading advocate for restrictive voting laws. Prior to joining the HEP, Snead was a senior policy advisor at the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation. Snead has spoken about voter fraud at events hosted by the Federalist Society.
At the Heritage Foundation, Snead created the “Heritage Election Fraud Database” with Hans von Spakovsky of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a noted voter fraud conspiracist and manager of the Heritage Foundation’s “Election Law Reform Initiative.”
In 2017, Snead pushed a report from the Public Interest Legal Foundation that claimed there was widespread voting by noncitizens in Virginia. The report led to a federal lawsuit, which PILF was forced to settle. As part of the settlement, the organization was forced to apologize to four citizens it falsely accused of breaking election laws.
Leonard Leo is the longtime former vice president of the Federalist Society and an important figure in right-wing legal activism. Leo operates a series of nonprofits set up to move money without public scrutiny, including the Judicial Crisis Network and the 85 Fund. In 2020, Leo stepped down as executive vice president of the Federalist Society to join CRC Advisors, though he remained co-chair of the organization.
Leo has been called “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system” as the leader of a “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively support conservative judges.
Todd Graves is the brother of U.S. Representative Sam Graves, a former Missouri Assistant Attorney General, and former U.S. District Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. He serves as chair of the 85 Fund. In addition, he is a director at America Engaged and the Freedom and Opportunity Fund, two 501(c)(4) organizations where Leonard Leo serves as an officer. He is a director at the Lucy Burns Institute, which publishes Ballotpedia, and has various ties to right-wing organizations. Graves is also:
Beginning in 2010, Scott Walker and his campaign for governor became the subject of multiple John Doe investigations looking into potential political corruption. Under Wisconsin law, a John Doe investigation is a type of secret investigation, similar to a grand jury, that can look into political corruption. Todd Graves represented targets of these John Doe investigations, namely the Wisconsin Club for Growth and “unnamed petitioner No. 2.”
In the aftermath of the investigations, the Wisconsin legislature limited the scope of future John Doe investigations, “restricting the length of time such probes can take to narrowing what allegations can be investigated” and “exempting political corruption charges.”
Carrie Severino is the president of the Judicial Crisis Network (FKA the Concord Fund), and she is the secretary of the 85 Fund (FKA the Judicial Education Project). She is a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Through her work with the 85 Fund and Judicial Crisis Network, Severino is affiliated with both the Honest Election Project (a 501(c)(3) and fictitious name of JCN) and Honest Election Project Action (a 501(c)(4) and fictitious name of the 85 Fund).
Severino is tied to the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center through her husband Roger, who works there as the Vice President of Domestic Policy. During the Trump Administration, Roger led the Office Of Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services. There, Roger created a ‘religious freedom’ division that aided healthcare providers who refused to provide abortions or gender-affirming care. He also reversed Obama-era protections that banned LGBTQ discrimination in healthcare.
The New York Times called Roger and Carrie Severino “leaders in the anti-abortion movement” and said the couple “celebrated” the fall of Roe v. Wade. Carrie Severino called Roe “the most egregious judicial distortion of the constitution in living memory.” A different piece from The New York Times said that the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court was the realization of the Severinos’ “dream” to enforce a socially conservative legal mandate on the United States.
Throughout the years, Carrie Severino has advocated for the anti-abortion movement while working at JCN:
Carrie Severino faced public criticism for her zealous defense of Brett Kavanaugh as he faced accusations of sexual assault and misconduct.
Severino’s father was a business partner of Daniel DeVos of the right-wing megadonor DeVos family. The Guardian said that the DeVos family has “promoted right-wing causes and candidates for years” and HuffPost described the family as “conservative royalty.” Vanity Fair found that the DeVos family gave as much as $200 million to conservative causes since the 1970s. Trump’s controversial education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is a family member.
Severino is also a frequent Fox News contributor.
Gary Marx is a political strategist identified as one of the “official partners in Leo’s consolidated dark money network.” Marx is a consistent aid to Leo and holds roles in both the Judicial Crisis Network and the 85 Fund.
Marx is the president and co-founder of Madison Strategies, a conservative political consulting firm that counts Walmart, Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, and the Judicial Crisis Network among its clients.
The Washington Post reported that Casey has “worked closely with Leo for years” while receiving no pay from the nonprofits. However, Casey’s public affairs firm DC Strategies received more than $1.5 million in fees from the Federalist Society over nine years.
Casey was formerly the executive director of the American Conservative Union. In this role, he was a key figure in the confirmation battle over Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987. Casey said Bork’s hearings were a “grand slam” against his critics. In a CSPAN program from 1987, Casey said the Bork nomination was the American Conservative Union’s “number one lobbying priority” at the time.
In 2011, Ann Corkey, in her capacity as the head of the Wellspring Committee, fired two board members to replace them with her daughter Kathleen Corkery and Daniel Casey’s son Michael Casey. The two would later serve on the Wellspring Committee’s board in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Conservative funding group, Donors Trust provided a majority of the Honest Election Project’s funding, giving the 85 Fund $70,000 in 2020 earmarked for “Honest Election Project” and an additional $1,000,000 for “judicial education projects.”
Through its involvement with The 85 Fund and the Judicial Crisis Network, the Honest Election Project is connected to a well-funded dark money network. In 2020, The 85 Fund was responsible for over $35 million in grants distributed to right-wing activist organizations. In the same year, JCN received a $21.5 million grant from the Rule of Law Trust, a nonprofit organization whose sole employee is Leonard Leo, accounting for nearly half of JCN’s revenue in 2020.
In the months prior to the 2020 election, the Honest Elections Project engaged in multiple voter suppression efforts, including launching a $250,000 ad campaign to oppose mail-in voting, sending legal briefs in support of voting restrictions in key swing states, and pushing for voter roll purges in Colorado, Florida, and Michigan using based on misleading claims about “bloated voter rolls.”
Since the 2020 election, the Honest Elections Project has teamed up with a variety of high-profile conservative groups to create the template for Republican lawmakers to pass more restrictive voting laws.
In July 2021, the Honest Elections Project hosted an “exclusive, invitation-only” academy alongside ALEC, a corporate “bill mill” comprised of state legislators and corporate stakeholders that draft and disseminate right-wing model legislation. ALEC’s model legislation has been introduced in every state in the country, and nearly a quarter of the country’s state legislators are members of the council. The joint “academy” was meant to train state lawmakers on voter suppression legislation. ALEC and the Honest Elections Project held another training for state lawmakers in November of 2021 on enacting laws that would make voting more difficult—including “direct litigation strategies.”
In 2022, the Honest Elections Project teamed up with the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation to host a conference for state-level Secretaries of State, who are often the chief elections officers in the state governments. While only the invitation to the conference can be found and no other information is available, HEP’s work with ALEC training state lawmakers on voter suppression methods provides some insight into what may have been discussed with the Secretaries of State.
In 2022, the Honest Elections Project praised laws making voter registration more difficult, opposed one of Biden’s Federal Election Commission nominees, and filed amicus briefs in support of voter ID laws.
Honest Elections Project features on its litigation page and supported a lawsuit in Michigan that challenged the authority of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to count ballots that arrived up to two weeks late in the 2020 election, a directive that came from a Michigan Court of Claims ruling but was eventually blocked by a ruling from the Michigan Court of Appeals. Secretary of State Benson complied with the Court of Appeals order.
Honest Elections Project was cited in and supported a lawsuit brought by a Michigan voter which alleged that the state of Michigan had “suspicious” voter registration rates compared to Census data, in spite of the fact that “voter registration lists and Census estimates are different data sets.”
In 2021, Daunt agreed to voluntarily dismiss his lawsuit, stipulating that Michigan purge its voter lists more aggressively.
Since 2020, the Honest Elections Project has filed multiple amicus briefs in an attempt to influence the court, including pushing the independent state legislature theory – a fringe legal theory that posits that the state legislative body has the sole authority to regulate federal elections. The theory has gained steam among conservatives in recent years and threatens to wipe out most checks and balances when it comes to federal elections.
In September 2022, HEP filed an amicus brief supporting ISLT in Moore v. Harper – a case which will decide whether “the state legislative body, independent of any constraints by state courts or other laws, have sole authority to regulate federal elections” and has been seen by many commentators as a path to election subversion.
The legislature’s argument is that the state Supreme Court did not have the authority to strike down the gerrymander, and rest their claim on ISLT. The historical basis for the North Carolina legislature’s ISLT argument in part relies on a “well-known fake” American historical document which the legislature cites as proof that the framers of the constitution “intended to sweep aside the traditional checks and balances.”
Adoption of an extreme version of ISLT would mean that state legislatures, and no other body, would have the sole authority to regulate federal elections. This would mean that voters across the nation would have no judicial remedy for partisan gerrymandering and threatens to “dramatically upend legal protections governing voting rights and redistricting.” Honest Elections Project executive director Jason Snead called the case a “top priority” for the organization.
The Honest Elections Project has filed amicus briefs in cases other than Moore v. Harper, intending to uphold state supremacy in elections.
Featured on the Honest Elections Project’s litigation page is a Minnesota case regarding ballot deadline extensions in the 2020 election, similar to the Michigan case Johnson v. Benson, which HEP also features on its website. While a district court initially denied the plaintiffs’ request to block state officials from implementing the extended deadline, citing a lack of standing, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and decided that the extended deadline likely violated the Constitution because “only the Minnesota Legislature, and not the Secretary,” has the power “to establish the manner of conducting the presidential election in Minnesota.”
The 8th Circuit ruling invokes the central claim of the Independent State Legislature Theory.
While Honest Elections Project focuses on elections and voting laws, Free to Learn and Free to Learn Action (identified together as the Free to Learn Coalition) work to push anti-critical race theory advocacy campaigns across the nation.
The Free to Learn Coalition operates almost identically to the Honest Elections Project, in that coalitions are fictitious names of the 85 Fund and the Judicial Crisis Network and have a 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) side affiliated with the 85 Fund and JCN respectively.
Judicial Crisis Network is the lynchpin of Leonard Leo’s efforts to put conservative judges on the bench. The group has led successful campaigns to nominate and confirm five Supreme Court justices. JCN is the public face of Leonard Leo’s “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively supports conservative judges. Along with its dark money sister organization, the 85 Fund (FKA the Judicial Education Project), JCN’s shadow empire has allowed Leo to meet and “cultivate almost every important Republican lawyer in more than a generation.”
Honest Elections Project Action, the 501(c)(4) side of Honest Elections Project, is a fictitious name for JCN’s legal name, the Concord Fund. In addition to Judicial Crisis Network and Honest Elections Project Action, the Concord Fund also registered the fictitious names Free to Learn Action and Alliance for Consumers Action Fund.
The 85 Fund (FKA the Judicial Education Project) is a 501(c)(3) organization that operates within a network of conservative nonprofits aiming to influence the federal judiciary and the American political system more broadly. The 85 Fund was founded in 2011 by prominent Republican operatives and is closely tied to its sister organization, the Judicial Crisis Network. Together, JCN and the 85 Fund form the nexus of Trump judicial advisor and conservative legal activist Leonard Leo’s network of nonprofits advancing his fringe agenda.
The 501(c)(3) side of Honest Elections Project is a fictitious name of the 85 Fund, which itself has four registered fictitious names aside from Honest Elections Project, including its former name, the Judicial Education Project, as well as the Public Policy Seminar, Law and Policy Forum, and Free to Learn.
Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky is a boutique law firm that represents “some of the nation’s largest super PACs and their related nonprofits” on the conservative side, including American Crossroads, Americans for Prosperity, the Honest Elections Project, the BH Fund, the Freedom and Opportunity Fund, and American Engaged among others. According to McClatchy, Holtzman Vogel “specializ[es] in creative legal maneuvers that allow donors to fund conservative causes to remain anonymous.”