Philanthropists are assembling significant sums to expand and protect voting rights ahead of an uncertain 2020 election. These benefactors have volunteered to donate at least 1% of their net worth or assets to invest in solidifying the infrastructure to help increase voter registration and turnout, defeat anti-voter suppression, and finance efforts relating to lawsuits that may spring up around mail-in voting. They’ll assist in infusing enthusiasm into young people and communities of color to turn out, and in protecting post offices and making sure polling places are effectively manned. As of August 27, the fund has reached $40 million of an ultimate goal of $100 million.
“I think this election’s going to be decided by whose base comes out and votes,” says Mike Novogratz, cofounder of the organization, called One for Democracy “[And], are they able to vote?”
Novogratz is the cofounder and CEO of Galaxy Digital, a public company that trades and invests in cryptocurrency. His philanthropy unit, Galaxy Gives, works primarily on criminal justice reform. But he was persuaded to temporarily move into solving democratic challenges in the face of an election mired in intentional voter prevention tactics from the current administration. It became increasingly clear that “all the work we’re doing in justice reform might not matter so much if we had a cheated election or a broken election,” he says.
That spurred him to convene a diverse array of charitable businesspeople, artists, activists, and others—”not the normal Wall Streeters,” he says—to donate at least 1% of their wealth to upholding and restoring democracy. It began with making calls to people within his network, and it quickly snowballed as donors contacted their networks to also pledge.
The approximately 70 donors include filmmaker Andrew Jerecki, education entrepreneur Gideon Stein, artist and activist Molly Gochman, and environmental-focused investor couple Ibrahim and Sarah AlHusseini. Though they haven’t yet reached the end goal, they’ve begun distributing funds because of the time pressures. “Every day that we wait, the dollars become a little less impactful,” says Billy Watterson, director of Galaxy Gives. Watterson, Novogratz, and a board of advisors meet on a regular basis to determine which of the 50 or so organizations should receive the latest funds.
Recipient groups include Black Voters Matter Fund, which focuses on increasing black voter turnout, and the National Vote at Home Institute, which works to optimize and educate on mail-in voting processes. But the team highly values state and local grassroots organizations in swing states, which “do a lot of the lion’s share of really important work that needs to happen,” Watterson says, but are often short of resources. Detroit Action, a group fighting for political power for working-class Detroiters, and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which aims to enfranchise former convicted individuals.
While 2020 is the focus, the collective wants to build a long-term infrastructure, by investing in groups that have the scope to grow and continue their work for years after. Perhaps by investing in the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, for instance, voters can elect politicians who’ll fight for lasting criminal justice reform. They’ll ask donors to continue to give 1% on an annual basis. “I joined the One for Democracy pledge because strengthening our democracy is essential to advancing progress on the most important issues of our time,” said Molly Gochman, an early investor, in a press release, “from racial equity to climate action to criminal justice reform.”
Novogratz and Watterson plainly admit that the philanthropic pivot was sparked by the current administration. “If you didn’t have Trump in office, and you had a George Bush clone, I don’t think we’d be doing this,” Novogratz says. But it’s proven to be a wake-up call to making longer-lasting change. “[It] felt like parts of our democracy were slipping away from us,” he says. “And, shame on us if we let it happen.”