Ballot Initiative Strategy Center

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The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, or BISC, based in Washington, DC, advocates for progressive ballot measures and against conservative ballot measures. There are two BISC organizations, the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Inc., a 501(c)(4) and the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation, a 501(c)(3).

How BISC is funded

It is the general practice of BISC to not disclose its donors. According to their 2007 Form 990, the revenue of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Inc. was $923,606.[1] while revenue for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation was $203,169[2] For 2008, the expected budget for BISC was $3 million.[3] In past years, it has received significant support from billionaire George Soros and his Open Society Institute, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) totaling $510,073 since the foundation's creation in 1999.[4]

National Public Radio (NPR) published an August 2008 profile in its series, The Secret Money Project: The Organizations, that discloses that BISC is part of an umbrella coalition called "America Votes".[5]


Disclosure forms of some granting organizations show the following grants:

Year Donor Grant
2006 SEIU $25,000
2005 AFL-CIO $25,000
2005 NARAL $10,507
2005 Open Society Institute $153,007[6]
2005 National Education Association $75,000
2005 SEIU $25,000
2004 NARAL $17,165
2004 OSI $154,665[7]

The 2002 and 2003 tax returns of the BISC Foundation do not provide any donor information.[8],[9]

BISC, Inc. elected not to disclose its donors on its federal income tax returns in 2005 and 2004.[10]

The New Progressive Coalition announced in 2007 that it had designated BISC as a member of its "Victory in 2008 and Beyond" progressive "mutual fund".[11] BISC is also listed as "a partner" of the liberal organization, "America Votes", which describes BISC as enabling "a wide range of ideologically progressive groups" to "use the [initiative] process more effectively".[12]

Big Labor supports BISC

In an April 2008 publication, "The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center: How It Promotes Big Labor's Political Strategy", the Capital Research Center disclosed that BISC has taken donations from the AFL-CIO, the International Association of Machinists, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Assocation, the United Food and Commercial Workers, SEIU and AFSCME.[13]

The Capital Research Center also writes that BISC has taken funds from what it describes as the "far-left Arca Foundation".

Signature collection companies

BISC is a frequent critic of petition drive management companies that circulate initiatives that are disliked by BISC's supporters. It refers to Mike Arno's company along with National Voter Outreach as "fraudsters" and refuses to support any initiative affiliated with the companies.[14]

Consultants endorsed by BISC include Progressive Campaigns, Inc., Fieldworks[15] and ACORN.[16]

Charges of hypocrisy

According to Joe Mathews, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and a leading ballot pundit at Blockbuster Democracy, when labor-backed Washington I-1029 ran into legal trouble in July 2008, "In cases when mistakes have been made by backers of initiatives with whom labor disagrees, SEIU and other unions have screamed to the high heavens about fraud. If a chamber of commerce had made a mistake like SEIU's on, say, a "right to work" measure, the union would be accusing the chamber of all sorts of things. And the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center -- the labor-backed, self-styled police of the initiative process -- would be calling for indictments. The BISC has been not-so-curiously silent about this SEIU screw-up."[17]

BISC and petition blocking

Reporter Lisa Baker writes that at an AFL-CIO meeting in Oregon in 2001[18]:

At the event, BISC presenter Kelly Evans encouraged unions to run “signature blocking” campaigns—organized efforts to urge citizens not to sign ballot petitions that would harm progressive interests. She said such efforts "help build and mobilize your base," and "force your opposition to spend more money or volunteer hours gathering signatures."

Recently, Paul Jacob released one of his Common Sense articles accusing BISC of blocking initiatives using underhanded tactics.[19] The tactics included:

  • Yelling and causing a scene to intimidate potential signers
  • "Identity Theft" accusations to circulators
  • Filing lawsuits to bankrupt ballot initiative campaigns
  • Calling police on petitioners

See petition blocking.

BISC donations to ballot measures

2006: Idaho, Ohio, Washington

  • BISC donated a total of $15,000 to two ballot measures that appeared on the November general election ballot in Washington.[21],[22]

2005: Legislative re-districting in Ohio

  • BISC donated $55,000 to a group called "Reform Ohio Now", which was the unsuccessful sponsor of a ballot initiative, Issue 4, the goal of which was to significantly alter how Ohio state legislative districts were drawn. Other donors to "Reform Ohio Now" were George Soros, the Tides Foundation and People for the American Way. Only 33% of Ohio voters voted in favor of the measure.

2000: California law enforcement

  • BISC donated $29,500 to an unsuccessful campaign to defeat California Proposition 21. Proposition 21, a measure to increase "punishment for gang-related felonies, home-invasion robbery, carjacking, witness intimidation and drive-by shootings", passed with 62% of the vote.[23]

BISC attacks on conservative ballot initiatives

Kristina Wilfore, executive director of BISC, said at a "Take Back America" conference held March 17-29, 2008 in Washington, D.C., that "right-wing leaders and activists are desperate, and their leaders and activists are trying to use ballot gimmicking to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat".[24]

Ward Connerly

Wilfore also said that Ward Connerly is "no more than a pawn of the right-wing agenda", and promised to unveil a new website, Stop Ballot Fraud, that would attack Connerly, Howard Rich, Patrick Byrne and Rick Berman. Wilfore said that they are "not good people".

BISC launches ad campaign targeting Connerly

In September 2008, BISC launched an ad campaign in media markets in Colorado and Nebraska in opposition to, respectively, the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative and the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative. In the ad, which is titled He Wins, We Lose, BISC goes after Ward Connerly, calling him Big Money Connerly. The ad and accompanying press releases from BISC use the word "fraud" to describe Connerly. Connerly's motives are questioned in the text, and he is accused of benefiting from what it calls "non profit slush funds" and hypocrisy. Connerly responded to the ad saying that he did not profit personally and that monies paid to his firm pay for a variety of different functions, including lawfirms.[25],[26],[27]

External links


  1. 2007 BISC, Inc. Form 990,
  2. 2007 BISC Foundation Form 990,
  3. Capital Research Center', The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center:How it promotes big labor political strategy, April 2008
  4. Capital Research Center', The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center:How it promotes big labor political strategy, April 2008
  5. National Public Radio, "Profile: America Votes", August 4, 2008
  11. New Progressive Coalition entry on BISC
  12. America votes entry on BISC
  13. The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center: How It Promotes Big Labor's Political Strategy
  14. Capital Research Center', The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center:How it promotes big labor political strategy, April 2008
  15. Capital Research Center', The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center:How it promotes big labor political strategy, April 2008
  16. BISC Consultants
  17. A Big Labor Oops on Washington State Measure, July 20, 2008
  19. Blocking and Tackling Democracy, Common Sense, Nov. 28, 2007
  20. Idaho Campaign Finance Disclosure Report
  21. Cit for Community Protection monetary contributions
  22. Washingtonians for Clean Energy monetary contributions
  23. Details of contributors to No on Prop 21
  24. The Washington Times, Will ballot initiatives help the GOP survive in November? March 17, 2008
  25. BISC YouTube video, He Wins, We Lose
  26. KPTM-TV, "TV ad targets backer of affirmative action ban", September 27, 2008
  27. The Daily Voice, "New ad campaign accuses Ward Connerly of profiteering from affirmative action fight", September 25, 2008