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Voting groups get $38 million boost from donor funds backed by wealthy Democrats

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A new group of donor funds backed by Wall Street executive Mike Novogratz and his allies has raised $38 million from prominent Democratic donors to support organizations that aim to get out the vote this fall. 

The group, One for Democracy, has multiple funds. Donors are encouraged to pledge 1% of their net worth or total assets toward the organization, which then sends those contributions to nonprofits across the country. 

One for Democracy’s origin stems from early March, just before New York started to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Novogratz, a former hedge fund executive, took part in a meeting with wealthy donors and fundraisers to discuss what they see as dueling existential threats: potential voter suppression and President Donald Trump. 

A March 4 dinner at an apartment in downtown New York included people such as artist and philanthropist Molly Gochman and former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, according to Novogratz and Billy Watterson, a director of the Novogratz family philanthropy arm.

Gochman, who was among the first donors to make the pledge, announced her decision to back the group during a Zoom call a month later. Others on the call agreed to help organize and reach out to their donor networks to assist in raising the necessary funds. 

Since that dinner, the group has raised $38 million through over 70 individuals and foundations taking the pledge, said Watterson, a co-founder of the group. They hope to raise close to $100 million by Election Day.

Novogratz has made big investments in bitcoin and has spent millions on pushing for criminal justice reform. He recently put up $1 million for an anti-Trump super PAC called Defeat by Tweet. 

One for Democracy raised its sum as the pandemic forced several states to expand options for mail-in voting. The contributions came as the leadership at the U.S. Postal Service faced criticism for the removal of mail sorting machines and other service cutbacks at a time when millions of voters are preparing to vote by mail.

The One for Democracy organization acts like an investment firm, with multiple funds dedicated to backing nonprofit groups, including ones that seek to help educate voters on how best to participate in the November election between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“Our primary goal is to defend our democracy.” Watterson said Wednesday. “We do that through three ways. Expanding the vote by registering and mobilizing voters. Protecting access to the vote through expanding vote by mail and protecting in-person voting, and finally defeating Donald Trump because he is an existential threat to our democracy.” 

The group’s website lists several longtime Democratic donors as having made pledges. Even if financiers don’t want to commit to giving over 1% of their wealth, they can still give other contributions to help the cause. 

Beyond Novogratz and Gochman, there’s Jeremy Mindich, a co-founder of asset management firm Scopia Capital; longtime investor David Slifka; and Andrew Blumenfeld, a co-founder of CallTime.AI, a digital fundraising software firm. Others include Ian Simmons and his wife, Liesel Pritzker Simmons, who co-founded investment firm Blue Haven Initiative. Liesel Pritzker Simmons is part of the wealthy Pritzker family, which includes Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Penny Pritzker, secretary of Commerce under President Barack Obama. 

Others on the donor list are Ibrahim AlHusseini, founder of investment firm Full Cyle, and Jason Flom, founder of music recording company Lava Records.

AlHusseini, who was raised in Saudi Arabia before moving to the U.S., told CNBC he took the pledge because he believes Trump and the Republican Party are acting similar to how leaders acted in the country he grew up in. 

“I moved to America to live in a nation where no one was above the law. Seeing how often this administration ignores the law and the Attorney General and the Republican Party play along, concerns me greatly as I love this nation and don’t want it to lose all that made me and millions of others want to move here,” he told CNBC in a Twitter message. 

After donors contribute, they’re encouraged to call on their associates and networks to support One for Democracy. 

Watterson said that none of their donors are those who currently side with the Republican Party, though he did say they are open to working with them. 

“I’ve been on calls with a bunch. I haven’t won them over,” Novogratz said, when discussing attempts to pull in Republicans.

One for Democracy also has an advisory board filled with experienced fundraisers. It was created to help guide where best to funnel contributions and advise on fundraising tactics. 

Board members include Tory Gavito, president of the progressive donor network Way to Win; Heather Smith, a former executive director of Rock the Vote, which focuses on voter registration; and Billy Wimsatt, an executive director at the Movement Voter Project, which acts as a similar conduit for donors who want to give to outside groups. 

The Voter Participation Center is among the groups getting support from One for Democracy. Its website says it has helped millions register and cast ballots. Another is Voter Protection Corps, which says “we must take urgent steps to ensure that all eligible voters can register, vote, and have their votes count at all costs.”

Others listed as receiving support are the Organizing Empowerment Project, Vote at Home and New Florida Majority. 

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