Cleta Mitchell’s Fear of Democracy

The New York Times reported last week on an under-the-radar effort pushed by a bunch of Republican-backed dark money groups to enact new voting restrictions in time for the 2024 elections. As the group Documented has shown, in the center of all these efforts is Trump and Republican lawyer Cleta Mitchell. Her recent speeches revealed by Documented and journalist/activist Lauren Windsor show that Mitchell is not just motivated to give Republicans an advantage in the next elections; she is opposed to democracy itself. The brazenness of her anti-democratic message and her welcome reception at a recent Republican National Committee donors conference should worry all of us.

It was jarring to hear leaked recordings snipped from her presentation at a Republican National Committee donors conference in which Mitchell pushed to make it harder for college students to vote, derided voter outreach efforts by nonprofits, falsely stated that the Census Bureau messed with the apportionment of congressional seats to help Democrats, falsely stated that the U.S. Department of Education required every college receiving federal funds to include voter registration materials as part of the student enrollment package, and solicited money for her ongoing work at suppressing the vote in key battleground states going into 2024.

One might think that Mitchell, an election lawyer who advised Trump on his 2020 call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump tried to get Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes and flip Georgia’s electoral college votes to him, would be chastened or at least circumspect about her new attempts at voter suppression. She was apparently pushed out as a partner at a major law firm for her attempts to subvert the 2020 election outcome and was subpoenaed before a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia concerning her 2020 election subversion activities. But Mitchell is now working up new mischief through the “Election Integrity Network,” part of the Conservative Partnership Network. According to Axios, Trump authorized a $1 million donation from his PAC to support Mitchell’s work.  

Earlier in April, Mitchell was welcomed to share her plans and insights at an RNC donor conference. Journalist-activist Lauren Windsor has been releasing parts of the leaked audio of Mitchell’s talk, and some of what Mitchell said there about student voting has already made headlines in the Washington Post and elsewhere.

Mitchell lamented that Wisconsin Democrats supposedly targeted 240,000 college students in an attempt to help elect a liberal judge to the state Supreme Court in the election earlier this month. “What are these college campus locations?,” Mitchell complained. “What is this young people effort that they do? They basically put the polling place next to the student dorm so they just have to roll out of bed, vote, and go back to bed.” 

As Mitchell described the upcoming 2024 U.S. presidential election contest, she repeatedly complained about states making it too easy for people to vote. And these claims were not primarily about cheating, although there was plenty of innuendo about that too. They were instead complaints that the United States has too much democracy.

She railed against private foundations such as Mark Zuckerberg providing money to election officials to run fair and safe elections during the 2020 pandemic, after Congress failed to come up with adequate funding to do so. Participation itself is bad in Mitchell’s view, especially if resources are directed to places where Democrats may vote. 

 Mitchell also complained about the activity of charitable foundations being used to motivate more people to vote: “Civic engagement, who could be against that? Expanding the electorate? When they are talking about expanding the electorate, they’re not talking about voter registration drives. They’re talking about how came we literally manufacture voters from people who don’t really have any interest in voting and how can we do that most easily without having what they call ‘voter suppression’ is anything that would protect the integrity of the outcome….” She further lamented outreach to “underserved” communities because she said that those people would vote “90 to 95 percent” for the Democrats.

Her reference to “literally manufacturing” voters is not a claim of voter fraud, to be clear. It is a claim that these groups are motivating people to vote who otherwise would not vote. Mitchell appears to believe that if voting is too easy, the wrong people will be voting. And this is what she wants to fight against.

Mitchell argued in her presentation that many of these groups supporting voter engagement were violating the tax code, because charities cannot engage in certain campaign activities and some of these activities were directed at people who would vote for Democrats. Never mind the chutzpah that Mitchell solicited these RNC donors at this conference to give to her own charity, the Election Integrity Network, right after she told donors which states Republicans should target with voter suppression efforts to win the election in 2024. If those groups were breaking the tax code (I’m skeptical), Mitchell surely was with her own presentation too. A liberal group just filed a complaint against her group for this activity aimed at helping Republicans.

But was more interesting was her aside (at 2:45 on this video), as she was describing the names of some of the groups funded by these foundations: “Let me tell you this. Whenever anybody starts telling you that they’re worried about our democracy or protect democracy, or they’ve got democracy in their name, those are not friends of ours. Because we live in a constitutional republic, not a democracy.”

“They want it to be a democracy and change our founder’s intent,” she concluded.

There it is. Never mind Mitchell’s nonsense about the U.S. being a “republic” not a “democracy.” Voters should still have the right to elect representatives in a fair election in a “republic,” so that argument, as always, proves nothing.

Instead, focus on Mitchell’s vision: Too many people are voting. And If people can vote, Democrats will win.

There’s good reason to doubt the relationship between higher turnout and Democrats winning elections. But no reason to doubt that Mitchell is ready to disenfranchise voters to help Republicans.

She said as much in her deposition before the House special select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection and attempted overturning of the 2020 election. Responding to Trump’s attempts to get state legislatures to overturn the will of the people after they had voted for President in 2020, Mitchell said: “The Constitution of the United States grants plenary power to state legislatures to choose electors of the State. Congress has enacted a statute which is an enabling law, which I happen to think is unconstitutional, because the power granted in the Constitution to state legislatures . . . is complete and total. There’s nothing in the Constitution about allowing people, citizens to vote on electors.” She called the votes of the people for President just “advisory.”

Not chastened. Brazen. And welcomed with open arms to the RNC donor conference. Buckle up for 2024.

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