Hayden Ludwig: Dark money bought ranked-choice voting in Alaska. Will dark money keep it in 2024?

Hayden Ludwig


Alaska may be a red state, but it won’t be for long if leftists get their way. In recent years the state has become one of the Left’s favorite “dark money” dumping grounds in an effort to give Democrats an unlikely edge in the Republican stronghold. 

It’s an old trick: If you can’t win the game, change the rules.

That’s the real story behind Alaskans for Better Elections (ABE), the lobbying group responsible for Ballot Measure 2, the 2020 initiative that enacted the state’s now-infamous ranked-choice voting system and supposedly exposed “dark money.” 

If you don’t understand ranked-choice voting, that’s the point. It’s a confusing, byzantine approach to balloting that unexpectedly gave Alaska its first Democratic congresswoman, Mary Peltola, in nearly 50 years—in a state that broke for Trump 53-43 percent in 2020—something the New York Times happily credits to the novel voting scheme.

Not that even Democrats can agree on the merits of ranked-choice voting. In fact, the D.C. Democratic Party voted against adopting ranked-choice voting in May because they feared it would “undermine the strength of Democrats” in the district. Democrats across the Potomac in Arlington County also gave the measure a shot—the first to do so anywhere in my own state, Virginia—only to quietly drop the scheme just last week. Why? Even the election board responsible for the experiment couldn’t explain how it worked.

But that’s no problem because Democrats already control Arlington and D.C. Ranked-choice voting was always meant to give them inroads into red states otherwise inaccessible to their candidates and ideas—like Alaska.

From Colorado with Cash

Pro-Measure 2 groups outspent conservatives nearly 12–1 in 2020 yet only won by less than 3,800 votes—a narrow triumph of “dark money” over… “dark money.”

How so? According to public disclosures, ABE is overwhelmingly funded by “progressive” mega-donors in New York, California, Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin—just about anywhere except for, you know, Alaska.

And ABE admits this, proudly calling its out-of-state contributors “philanthropists dedicated to addressing the most pressing problems facing the country”—as if Alaskans never held a fair election prior to enacting ranked-choice voting. So who are these donors? 

John Arnold is an Enron alumnus and hedge fund investor who made his billions trading so-called fossil fuels. Now he’s pumped at least $23 million into groups that want to tax people and businesses for using those CO2-emitting fuels. Not surprisingly, pro-carbon tax groups also supported Measure 2. Arnold’s “philanthropy,” the Houston-based Arnold Ventures, has cut checks to ABE since 2019; yet it’s structured as an LLC, not a nonprofit, so it doesn’t file public disclosures, the very definition of “dark money.”

Then there’s FairVote, the far-left group behind ranked-choice voting in Arlington County. FairVote also supports abolishing the Electoral College and automatic voter registration, two of the Left’s favorite election “reforms” du jour.

Kathryn and James (son of Rupert) Murdoch have pumped tens of millions of dollars into even more extreme “green” groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, which used $11 million from the pair’s philanthropy in 2019 to lobby against gas and oil production. Kathryn was a top donor to super PACs backing Hillary Clinton in 2016, and even directed the Clinton Foundation’s global warming initiative—whose contributions mysteriously sank after Hillary failed to clinch the presidency.

The New York pair’s money-funnel of choice: Unite America, a Denver-based group that pumped $3.7 million into ABE from 2019–2021. Unite America pretends to be a middle-of-the-road, “country over party” group but its board (which includes Kathryn) leans decidedly left. 

That board also includes Katherine Gehl, an ABE supporter based in Wisconsin. Gehl’s also on the board of New America, a “centrist” think tank led by ex-Obama administration officials and funded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Centrist indeed; New America was behind “creation care,” a faux-biblical scheme to seduce Evangelicals into buying the Left’s global warming and split off from the Republican Party.

Besides Alaska, Unite America is behind ranked-choice voting campaigns in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Nevada, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, and dozens of municipalities; it also funds Bill Kristol’s NeverTrump group Defending Democracy Together (delightfully acronymed DDT).

The Left Strikes Back

Now ABE is turning its guns on conservative groups trying to roll back ranked-choice voting with a new ballot measure. This week, ABE filed a complaint against Preserve Democracy alleging campaign finance and lobbying violations. The complaints follow similar efforts to block signature-gathering campaign by a related conservative group, Alaskans for Honest Elections

It’s called lawfare—winning with legal miscellanea what you can’t in a fair fight—and the Left excels at it. 

But the complaints suggest that Alaska conservatives are onto something big in battling ranked-choice voting if they can gather enough signatures to get on the 2024 ballot. Americans across the country are waking up to the Left’s Big Money plots, and it’s got “progressives” running scared.

Of course, this is far from the first time D.C. “progressives” have bankrolled a campaign to fool Alaskans. In September, I reported on how D.C. groups—led by the $1.6 billion “dark money” lobbying machine created by Arabella Advisors—ran the campaign to block Alaska’s proposed constitutional convention

Their spin: Stop “outside special interest groups and dark money” from promoting their own agenda over that of Alaskans. Did they think no one would notice?

That group, Defend Our Constitution, and ABE both share a common board member in ex-attorney general Bruce Botelho (D). Both use the services of Ship Creek Group, the consultancy founded by John-Henry Heckendorn, a political operative whom liberal Politico once gushed over as “reviving progressivism” in Alaska with an article titled “How to Turn a Red State Purple (Democrats Not Required).”

In other words, it’s an out-of-state grift to get red Alaska to fall in line with blue states. Don’t let them buy you.

Hayden Ludwig is the director of research for Restoration of America.


  1. Glad someone wrote an article explaining this, as I am not convinced that a fair number of the well-meaning conservatives on here ‘get it’. Ranked voting is something you install in your opponent’s strongholds to weaken their candidates by allowing partisan voters to cross-over and hand the election to the weakest moderate on the opposing side. It doesn’t inherently favor one side or the other, it just compromises whatever ideology/party is dominant in that region.

    Ranked voting has some universal downsides, of course.

    It turns elections into political patty-cake based on hidden, internal polling – is it now any mystery why Al Gross ‘suddenly, for family reasons’ dropped out of the race after running 3rd?

    It also punishes any candidate that runs an aggressive campaign. But ‘negative’ campaigning is literally the only time politicians will lift a finger to dig up an opponent’s dirty laundry – and the only time the public will actively be made aware. Rest of the time its just hogs at the trough. What politician doesn’t want his questionable activities buried by a ranked voting system that punishes candidates that bring them up?

  2. Ludwig is from Orange County, California. Rich irony.

    The reason the Dems don’t like RCV is that it benefits neither party. It takes power away from both parties and makes it more possible for free thinking, middle of the road, independent voters to get what they want.

    Radicals hate it on both sides of the aisles because it doesn’t help them consolidate power in hand-picked primaries.

    • Good points.

      Hayden hope you get paid for your work, I see your tax payer paid West Point graduate boss doesn’t take a salary.

    • Exactly! RCV allows one to vote for, say, the Libertarian candidate without “throwing one’s vote away”. Eventually, the collective psychology among the voters understands this and minor parties become competitive (and perhaps not so minor). The only losers are establishment politicians from the uniparty, who we elect because there are no real choices.

    • But Dems do like RCV – installed in red states. That is why they support it here.
      Its not that hard to comprehend, but there are a lot of people confusing the issue. Some, probably intentionally.

      Dems just don’t like RCV in deep blue states that they already dominate. Which is why RCV was shot down in California, New York and Washington DC. They absolutely don’t want their states’ large Republican minorities being allowed to cross-over and ranked vote to support Dem moderates or ‘mavericks’ that will sell out left wing principals.

  3. I don’t believe in public flogging but whoever came up with rank choice voting should at least be considered for flogging!

  4. So….our legislature can repeal this tomorrow but refuse to do so. Why aren’t we all beating down their doors to do this? I submitted testimony to the recent hearing and was told that I was one of the few that demanded it be repealed. Meanwhile, we’re pretending that we’ll “vote” to get rid of it with the same corrupt election process that supposedly barely passed it in 2020.

    • When was this recent hearing? I do not think that I heard of it! There’d be a heck of a lot of testimony against it if the public were aware of a public testimony period.

  5. Alaska isn’t a red state. Hasn’t been for years.

    And don’t forget to credit the PM radio host, alleged conservative, who was instrumental in getting RVC passed.

  6. If Alaska had an honest and independent judiciary, rather than one that has been completely co-opted by radical leftist extremists, the entire partisan boondoggle that is rigged choice voting would be summarily declared null and void, as the proposition that ushered it in back in 2020 was blatantly and egregiously unconstitutional, for more than one reason. Yet, surprise surprise, those constitutional challenges to it before and after that election were dismissed by the corrupt judiciary which lords over Alaskans.

  7. Quit talking about it, and sign the Initiative. Time is running out. Once you have signed , get 100 more to sign. Please MRAK Give this Movement some LIFE. Otherwise it is gonna Die Out.

    • I’m genuinely curious: how will signing the initiative actually force the legislature (primary beneficiaries of RVC) to actually act to change it?

      Actionable strategies, please. Wishful thinking got us here.

  8. More insidiously, this goes beyond dark money. The company I work for, one of the largest here in Alaska, held briefings before the vote on whether or not to implement ranked choice voting. Most of the top level management are leftists and democrat operatives, and donors. Big ones. They pushed this at staff meetings, town halls and other events. It was relentless. Those who questioned it were talked down to during these briefings as if they just didn’t understand (read: too stupid to know). Some were just ignored during the video meetings. It’s dark money + government influence + private influence + employment influence. This is only going to get darker. Elections will only take longer to decide. And more and more voters are going to be left wondering, “what happened to our elections process?”

  9. Ak GOP couldn’t even manage their own candidates in Alaska . Look at the Palin /Begich fiasco for evidence .

    GOP stands for Grifters , Opportunists and Pimps ! All Ak GOP had to do was to explain to their constituents about Ranked Choice Voting and how to vote . Real basic stuff . We got snookered again by the Republican Party ( uni-party !

    Terrible bunch of thieves and incompetence. Part of the reason politics are such a Wild West show up here . Most of the money flowing through our elections comes from outside the state , just look at our 2 US senators

  10. We need a new true to the law and what’s best for Alaska political party. The other two party’s that people keep supporting are lying and stealing their way to the top and the sheep don’t care.

  11. Let’s face it, the reason you guys hate RCV so much is because it makes it harder for a committed ideological minority to rule over the majority. Oooh, moderates with majority support might win… the horror!

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