The influence of special interest groups in Virginia politics has sharply increased over the past few election cycles. One of the outside groups new to the Commonwealth is California hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer.
Steyer recently wrote an AP editorial that was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch that highlighted his current $2 million effort with his advocacy group NextGen America to unseat Republicans Barbara Comstock (VA-10) and Scott Taylor (VA-2). As a liberal outreach group disguised as a voter registration operation, the billionaire’s efforts have saturated Virginia’s college campuses.
“Far be it from us to criticize young people’s participation in the democratic process or the idealism of youth. So it was heartening to see a recent story in The Washington Post about students at George Mason University encouraging their peers to register to vote.”
Using policy discussions and civil discourse to engage young voters is almost useless. After all, since “Rock the Vote” began in 1990, young voters are more receptive to entertainment that is typically used as an affront for a political agenda.
On the campus of GMU similar things are happening. Next to a table of fidget spinners and freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies, were signs with the phrases, “Are you tired of us chasing you with clipboards? Register to Vote” and “Name a more iconic duo . . . you and voting.”
Wearing blue NextGen America T-shirts, volunteers were walking billboards with the phrase “Resist. Win. Repeat.” The motto for resistance is something that is now being used to drive voter registration, rather than actually informing young people on what their agenda is or what is actually happening.
Steyer’s NextGen America is banking on “voter registration” to push his agenda, an agenda targeting impeachment of the president. For this, he is relying on not winning the hearts and minds of college students, but distracting them. “If you put a bunch of puppies at the polls, it turns out people stop and vote,” Steyer said.
Nevertheless, the liberal mindset on campus has been gaining in recent years. Last year, a group of GMU students actually sued their administration over the money and fundraising efforts given and undertaken by the Koch Foundation. The students were concerned the billionaires’ donations might come from motives that were less than entirely charitable.
According to the group “UnKoch My Campus,” students were absolutely taken aback by the fact that the foundation was donating to their school. On their website they explain, “wealthy donors and corporations that have been polluting our political system for self-interested political change have turned their eyes to universities for long term political and cultural change.”
Steyer’s efforts in Virginia currently include seven full-time paid staff, another 40 part-time paid staffers, and a presence on 17 campuses. Moreover, by Election Day 2018, Steyer’s Commonwealth efforts will swell to 60 staffers and 30 campuses.
So, considering billionaire Steyer is investing financial and political capital in Virginia’s institutions of higher education for a self-proclaimed, self-interested political change, would that not constitute what “UnKoch My Campus” would call a, “corrosive influence of ‘dark money’ [that] has undermined the democratic institutions of the United States,” per their website?
Of course, cookies and cute puppies can solve this.
During Virginia’s last election cycle in 2017, NextGen America repurposed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to pry student cellphone numbers from colleges and universities. They then used the numbers to text students about voting for Democratic candidates across the state. Even Governor Ralph Northam, who benefited from their actions, was opposed to this and signed legislation forbidding institutions of higher education to divulge such information.
Also, that isn’t NextGen America’s only infringement on privacy. According to a report from The Washington Post, “NextGen has gotten more sophisticated about its message and how to communicate it since 2013, when the group spent $8 million, mostly on TV ads, to help McAuliffe win the governorship. By 2016, NextGen was deploying targeted Facebook and online ads and offbeat strategies designed to generate social media posts.”
Given the ravenous backlash from the public over Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica, one must ask: was user data given the NextGen America?
So, who is the bigger perpetrator of anti-Democratic ideals? Would it be the Koch Foundation that helped GMU raise funds to provide for their school or Steyer who is using subversive tactics to secure student phone numbers, online and Facebook data, and banking on the resistance-happy, reticence-laden feelings of college kids to promote insurrectionary ideals?