A prominent professor of election law served as an intermediary between Democrat billionaire Michael Bloomberg and the Philadelphia election board, attempting to broker as much as $3 million in private funding for the Democrat stronghold mere months before the 2020 election, emails obtained by investigative journalist Todd Shepherd reveal.
Reporting for Broad + Liberty on Sunday, Shepherd unveiled a series of email communications between Stanford Law Professor Nathaniel Persily and Nick Custodio, the latter of whom was the deputy commissioner in the office of Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley. At the time Deely was the chair of the three-member board that sets and enforces policies to administer voter registration and conduct elections.
After noting that the board had just finalized its “CTCL grant” — a reference to the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) election grants — Custodio asked Persily whether he needed to “get” Persily the “Bloomberg thing tonight or can it wait until tomorrow afternoon?” Custodio dispatched that email to the Stanford professor late on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. After Persily responded that “Monday should be fine,” the Philadelphia election-board deputy followed up, asking, “Who should the Memo be addressed? Bloomberg or someone else?”
Persily’s reply indicates he worked directly with Bloomberg to push the funding request, with the Stanford professor telling Custodio to “just send me some bullet points on how much you would want from him and what it would be spent on.” Custodio replied with a $3,074,900 ask, with a little more than $2 million shown allocated to “staffing,” about $483,000 to mail-in voting consumables and the cost of initial mailing, and $590,000 for communications.
Whether Bloomberg ever provided the requested funding is unknown from the email threads, with Shepherd reporting that his questions to Persily, Custodio, Bloomberg, and Philadelphia went unanswered. But the mere effort by the Philadelphia board to obtain private funding from Bloomberg proves scandalous and raises questions concerning Bloomberg’s other efforts to commandeer the operations of Democrat districts.
Bloomberg’s Track Record
Prior to backing Biden, Bloomberg ran in the Democrat presidential primary. And even before dropping out of the race, Bloomberg vowed that “his massive campaign apparatus and an army of some 500 staffers will march on through the general election in November even if he loses the Democratic nomination.”
“Mike Bloomberg is either going to be the nominee or the most important person supporting the Democratic nominee for president,” Bloomberg’s campaign manager Kevin Sheekey told NBC News, stressing Bloomberg “is dedicated to getting Trump out of the White House.”
The Bloomberg campaign then previewed how the former New York City mayor intended to achieve his goal of keeping Trump out of the White House, noting that “Bloomberg’s extensive data and analytics capabilities” through his company Hawkfish could offer the eventual Democrat candidate an edge. While Bloomberg could not coordinate the digital operations of Hawkfish with the Democrat nominee’s campaign, according to Bloomberg officials, the former mayor would establish an independent funding vehicle to pay for the Hawkfish analytics and for staffers to support the eventual Democrat candidate.
“In states where the Democratic nominee will be competing in the fall, the Bloomberg staffers could play a critical role driving up Democratic turnout, in line with the former mayor’s pledge to spend more than $15 million this election on get-out-the-vote efforts,” NBC News reported in early 2020. “They could also organize their own events, ad campaigns and other organizing tactics in support of the nominee…”
But the emails exchanged between Professor Persily and the deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia board of elections indicate Bloomberg’s efforts to “get Trump out of the White House” extended beyond privately funding get-out-the-vote efforts and ad campaigns. The emails suggest the Democrat billionaire sought to infiltrate at least one government election office — the most populous one in the swing state of Pennsylvania and a stronghold for Democrats.
‘Arbitrary and Disparate Treatment’
In 2020, of the more than 1,700 voting divisions in Philadelphia, only about 30 went for Trump, and 604,175 Philadelphians voted for Biden compared to 132,870 for Trump, resulting in a 471,305 net advantage for the Democrat candidate in that one city. Biden eventually won Pennsylvania’s 20 electors by just slightly more than 80,000 votes.
Private funding of get-out-the-vote efforts is one thing, but when individuals coordinate with government actors, that triggers constitutional concerns under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In Bush v. Gore, the United States Supreme Court made clear that “the right to vote is protected in more than the initial allocation of the franchise.” The Equal Protection clause requires both that the right to vote be granted on equal terms, but also that the state “not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of any.”
Shepherd’s investigative journalism previously revealed extensive evidence that such “arbitrary and disparate treatment” occurred in 2020 in Pennsylvania when “beginning in July 2020, consultants working for leftist organizations coordinated with local election officials and Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf’s office to lobby five blue counties to apply for private grants.”
As I previously reported following Shepherd’s testimony before Pennsylvania’s State Government Affairs Committee, “While the grants originated with the nominally non-partisan Center for Tech and Civic Life — an organization that Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s private foundation later infused with some $350 million in cash — emails reveal that a main consultant involved in targeting select counties, Marc Solomon, worked for the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, or the CSME.”
In his testimony before the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Shepherd stressed that what’s “important to know about CSME is that it is not a 501(c)3, but rather it is a fiscally sponsored project of the New Venture Fund,” which is “managed by Arabella Advisors.” Shepherd added that “the ‘parent’ group of Arabella, New Venture Fund” is “part of what the Atlantic Magazine identified as ‘The Massive Progressive Dark-Money Group You’ve Never Heard Of.’” The New York Times would in fact spotlight the New Venture Fund in its article “Democrats Decried Dark Money,” Shepherd told the Pennsylvania lawmakers earlier this year.
The emails uncovered by Shepherd further expose the incestuous relationship between the leftist CSME project and the nominally nonpartisan CTCL. “In Persily’s mind, the two were closely related enough that he conflated them as the same project,” Shepherd wrote, highlighting the email exchange in which Philadelphia’s Deputy Commissioner Custodio noted they had “just finalized our CTCL grant,” prompting Persily to respond, “I understand that the requests for CSME will be fully granted.” But “when Custodio informed Persily that Philadelphia hadn’t been in contact with the CSME, Persily said, ‘Yes — CTCL is working with CSME.’”
Notwithstanding Persily’s apparent role as an intermediary for Bloomberg and his knowledge of the CSME’s collaboration with CTCL, there is no indication that the Stanford professor’s involvement stemmed from a partisan desire to benefit Biden and oust Trump. Instead, Persily, who co-led the Stanford-MIT Health Elections Project, viewed his work and the efforts of other “policy makers,” “the courts,” and “civil society groups” as making “an unprecedented effort to help local election administrators deal with the pandemic.”
In fact, in his post-election write-up, “The Miracle and Tragedy of the 2020 U.S. Election,” Persily even spotlighted the CSME and other left-leaning or leftist organizations, such as the Center for Inclusive Democracy, the National Vote at Home Institute, the Center for Election Innovation and Research, and Democracy Works, framing their donations as “philanthropic contributions” to provide election officials with “resources and technical assistance in support of mail voting and safe polling places.”
There was nothing altruistic about these gifts, however, with evidence establishing that leftist groups financed “the infiltration of election offices at the city and county level by left-wing activists, and using those offices as a platform to implement preferred administrative practices, voting methods, and data-sharing agreements, as well as to launch intensive outreach campaigns in areas heavy with Democratic voters.”
And with analyses by election data experts confirming the highly partisan basis on which that money was distributed, the conservative think tank Center for Renewing America is pushing the IRS to investigate the Center for Tech and Civic Life, the Center for Election Innovation and Research, and the National Vote at Home Institute, alleging in a recently filed complaint that those nonprofits “were engaged in a ‘partisan electioneering’ scheme led by Barack Obama’s former campaign manager David Plouffe by pumping nearly half a billion dollars into the 2020 election to swing the contest to Biden.”
The Extent of Bloomberg’s Meddling
While these organizations’ partisan targeting of election offices played a more significant role in interfering in the 2020 election, in some ways, the revelation of Bloomberg’s attempt to also fund specific election activities in heavily Democratic areas of the swing state of Pennsylvania represents a more serious affront to the integrity of the 2020 vote. At least with the millions donated by the Facebook founder, the funds were laundered through nonprofits with grant procedures in place, creating plausible deniability for government employees interested in obtaining additional cash to run their election efforts.
Conversely, with Bloomberg, the emails suggest there was no formal grant process and that he used liaisons to coordinate the funding. Further, with the “extensive data and analytic capabilities” of Bloomberg’s Hawkfish enterprise, Bloomberg could easily target the specific locales in swing states to accomplish his goal of evicting Trump from the White House. And given Bloomberg’s open support for Biden, his past candidacy for the Democratic presidential nominee, and his candid public vow to keep Trump out of the White House, election officers knew precisely who held the purse strings and why.
Whether Americans will ever learn the extent of Bloomberg’s involvement in the last presidential election, however, is another question. Shepherd hopes so, telling The Federalist that his wish “is that reporters in other jurisdictions will be able to use this bit of information to do new digging to see how widespread these offers from the mayor were — given that he wouldn’t answer that question to me directly.”
While Bloomberg and his collaborators may successfully avoid questioning from journalists, right-to-know and Freedom of Information Act requests to election officials provide a backdoor to that information. And swing states controlled by Republicans also hold the power to get some answers. So, stay tuned.