With voter-ID laws and other reforms taking center stage, a conservative group said Wednesday it is launching a new super PAC to fund state secretary of state candidates willing to go toe-to-toe with Democrats and defend more rigorous voter roll rules and stiffer election requirements.
Named SOS for SoS, the political action committee wants to raise at least $5 million and thinks it could top $10 million, which the political action committee's founders say they will spend defending current conservative secretaries and trying to elect new ones.
"Get in the game. We were literally asleep at the wheel," said Gregg Phillips, head of the PAC. "There hasn't been a real effort on our side to support these folks."
Who controls the voting rules has become a major issue in recent years, as all sides realize that election outcomes often turn on who's making those decisions.
Armed with that realization, conservatives at the state level have made a push in recent years to enact voter-identification requirements, or purge voter roles of people who have died or who have moved out of state, saying that having too many people on the books is an invitation to fraud.
Some states are also trying to demand the right to ask newly registered voters to prove their citizenship.
"The bottom line — backbone. These guys and ladies have to have a very strong backbone," Mr. Phillips said, promising to defend those who have pushed for the tighter laws.
President Obama and congressional Democrats counter that those moves are trying to make it tougher for real voters, and discourage minority voters who tend to vote Democratic. Mr. Obama on Wednesday released a report from a commission he formed after the 2012 election, tasked with studying ways to make it easier to vote.
But Mr. Phillips bristles at the charge that voter-ID laws and other clean-elections reforms are designed to suppress legitimate turnout.
"Nonsense," he said. "We're trying to suppress the dead-people vote. We're trying to suppress non-citizens."
Liberal activists made a similar effort a few years back, launching the Secretary of State Project, funded in part by billionaire George Soros. SOSP, as it was called, scored some substantial successes, including helping Democratic candidates win in Minnesota and Ohio in 2006.
Two years later in Minnesota that new secretary of state, Mark Ritchie, made some rulings Republicans felt were unfair in a recount between Al Franken and incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman. Mr. Coleman, who led in the election-night tally, ended up losing the race to Mr. Franken.
SOSP didn't do as well in the 2010 elections, and folded soon after.
A message sent to the group's founders on Wednesday wasn't returned.
Republican Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio secretary of state who was a key target for liberal critics, said the new super PAC is evidence that conservatives have learned their lessons.
"More and more activists and donors are starting to realize that left unchecked, these key positions would go more and more to folks that are in line ideologically and philosophically and politically to George Soros," he said. "I think it's a balancing act now, sort of balancing the scales, that this new group is putting forth the initiative to say we won't cede these positions to Soros and the like."
He predicted that liberal groups' next campaign will be to try to enact universal voter registration, so that once a citizen turns 18 he or she would automatically be registered to vote.
Mr. Blackwell also said he expects Mr. Soros and others to focus on attorney general races.
"Their emphasis is going to be now on folks who interpret state election laws, state attorney generals," he said.
About two-thirds of the states elect their chief election official, while in the other states it is an appointee of the governor or legislature.
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