Inside the left-wing dark money voter turnout operation targeting vulnerable patients

EXCLUSIVE — The Athens Neighborhood Health Center, Indiana Health Centers, and Mariposa Community Health Center collectively sit on over $58 million in assets and receive regular checks from the federal government.

As federally qualified health centers registered as tax-exempt nonprofit organizations in Georgia, Indiana, and Arizona, respectively, they cater to low-income patients benefiting from Medicaid and Medicare. The FQHCs, along with their counterparts, are set for a windfall thanks to President Joe Biden earlier this year freeing up $4.4 billion for them, the most substantial annual funding increase in a decade.

The taxpayer-backed health centers, however, also have something else in common. Like hundreds of others scattered across the United States, they are partners of a little-known charity in Boston called Vot-ER behind a sprawling “nonpartisan” operation to register vulnerable patients to vote ahead of the 2024 election between Biden and former President Donald Trump.

But Vot-ER, according to a Washington Examiner investigation, is hardly middle-of-the-road. Funded by top Democratic-allied dark money groups, staffed by left-wing activists, and organized by a former White House fellow now sitting on a Department of Health and Human Services advisory panel focused on outreach to “vulnerable and underserved patient communities,” Vot-ER is a progressive hub poised to play a key role in voter mobilization in the lead-up to November.

That mobilization effort is at the heart of a 2021 Biden executive order gifting unprecedented new tools to federal agencies to register voters with the help of “approved, nonpartisan third-party organizations and state officials.”

And Vot-ER, according to documents unearthed through the Freedom of Information Act, appears to be directly linked to the White House’s efforts to make Biden’s order a reality. The documents indicate that two top staffers from the Boston-based charity were present at a 2021 meeting with representatives from the Executive Office of the President, the Department of Justice, and other agencies, as well as other outside left-wing groups, to plan implementing the order.

This report is one of several in the Washington Examiner exploring Biden’s March 2021 executive order on voter registration and left-wing groups connected to it. To conservative legal experts and Republican lawmakers, the order is unconstitutional and will be used as a partisan weapon to score Biden a second term unlawfully.

“Under the IRS Code, all 501(c)(3) organizations are strictly forbidden from engaging in voter registration or get-out-the-vote efforts in a partisan manner,” said attorney Stewart Whitson at the Foundation for Government Accountability, a right-leaning think tank. In a 2023 study, FGA’s advocacy arm found a 30-point swing favoring Democrats among current welfare enrollees compared to low-income voters who have never received welfare.

“But Biden’s executive order sets the conditions for groups like Vot-ER to do just that, a clear violation of federal law,” Whitson said. “With the DOJ controlled by the current president, the onus falls on Congress to step up and investigate this activity.”

In a statement to the Washington Examiner, Vot-ER Executive Director Aliya Bhatia insisted her group adheres to all IRS regulations and operates in a nonpartisan fashion.

“We ensure that our voter engagement efforts do not support or oppose any political party or candidate,” Bhatia said. “Our focus is on connecting voter registration and health-related outcomes.”


President Joe Biden speaks at the Wilmington Convention Center, Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Wilmington, D.C., as he announces his administration is providing states an additional $3 billion to replace lead pipes across the country. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Biden’s 2021 executive order, issued in March of that year, required every federal agency to hand over a plan to the president’s domestic policy adviser detailing how it would increase voter registration and participation. Conservative legal experts, including fellow Hans von Spakovsky at the Heritage Foundation, say that agencies generally have no business registering voters over a risk of the current administration using the full weight of the government to push a partisan agenda.

But moreover, there is a lack of transparency from the Biden administration about the criteria for “approved” outside groups coordinating with the government on voter registration, a fact that prompted congressional Republicans to launch an investigation. It’s unclear who fits under this approved umbrella, though internal documents provide a glimpse into how groups enlisted by the White House for advice during a July 2021 order planning call were overwhelmingly of the progressive Left.

Two staffers from the Boston-based Vot-ER were present on that July 12, 2021 call, according to internal meeting notes. On the call, the outside organizations suggested registering groups such as low-income people in public housing, prison inmates, welfare recipients, and illegal immigrants, with the latter being a topic Vot-ER has explored in videos published on its YouTube account.

One Vot-ER staffer listed as having been on the White House call, Aliya Bhatia, is the group’s executive director. The second, Leah Ford, is Vot-ER’s chief of staff. Bhatia, who says on her personal website that she “prioritizes diversity and inclusion in all her endeavors,” cut a $500 check to Biden’s 2020 campaign. Ford, who has also donated to Biden and other Democrats, is a former Democratic political campaign aide and previously worked for Planned Parenthood, according to Ford’s LinkedIn profile and Federal Election Commission filings.

In February 2021, just one month before Biden issued the executive order that prompted that call, Vot-ER became registered as a charity with the IRS. Its founder was listed on financial disclosures as Alister Martin, a physician and White House fellow from August 2021 to October 2022. Martin, who government visitor logs show has made trips to the White House since his departure, joined an HHS advisory panel in 2023, according to a Federal Register notice.

HHS spokeswoman Renata Miller confirmed to the Washington Examiner that Martin is still on the advisory board. Panel members are vetted by the Ethics Office before participation to ensure there are no conflicts of interest, Miller said.

“It is clearly a conflict of interest for someone so closely tied to the Biden administration and the HHS to be running a group that is actively benefiting from Biden’s executive order,” Parker Thayer, a charity expert at the conservative Capital Research Center think tank, argued.

Launching Vot-ER, which says it trains paid fellows to understand topics such as “health disparities and medical racism,” was made possible with the help of a cadre of deep-pocketed left-wing donors. Those include the Tides Foundation, Progressive Multiplier Fund, and the Windward Fund, a key cog in the $1 billion Arabella Advisors consultancy, the largest Democratic-allied dark money network in the country.

A Tides Foundation spokesperson declined to comment on the grants, though the spokesperson told the Washington Examiner the group has no plans for future giving. A spokesperson for Progressive Multiplier Fund said its grants to Vot-ER were for “development efforts,” while a spokesperson for a Windward Fund project, who declined to comment on any future giving plans, said its grants were for “nonpartisan civic engagement tools.”

In 2021 articles of organization documents filed in Massachusetts, Vot-ER described to the Commonwealth how it would “provide the tools, training, and community that support a growing movement to help patients and providers use their voices to improve America’s Democracy.” Vot-ER, in its own telling, “develops nonpartisan civic engagement tools and programs for every corner of the healthcare system — from private practitioners to medical schools to hospitals.”

Martin is now CEO of A Healthier Democracy Inc., which is legally the same entity as Vot-ER, according to tax records. The Vot-ER founder, who has praised the work of far-left “anti-racist” activist Ibram X. Kendi, has made clear why he determines the healthcare space to be ripe for voter registration.

“There’s still something very sacred about the caregiving relationship,” Martin said in August 2023 during an interview with the left-leaning Aspen Institute, according to footage reviewed by the Washington Examiner. “And I think you can use that to take advantage of that to do some work upstream at the political and social determinants of health.”

In the interview, Martin described how a project connected to Vot-ER was purportedly moving federal funding “directly into the pockets of low-income patients” to “pay their rent, pay their phone bills, pay their heating and electricity bills.”

“And then,” he emphasized, “we can have a conversation with them in six months, nine months, about voter registration.”

Now, the expansive registration push is taking place at hundreds of Vot-ER-tied health centers in Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, Florida, Nevada, and various other states, according to Vot-ER. Partners, the charity says, are encouraged to conduct on-site voter registration and staff trainings in their workplaces.

But while Vot-ER has a tab on its website advising healthcare professionals to proudly wear Vot-ER badges with QR codes that direct patients to voter registration materials, Vot-ER has also appeared to promote conflicting messages about the legality of this endeavor.

Vot-ER’s website, separately, links to a “best practices” document on advising health centers not to allow “providers and other staff to wear the VotER lanyard with the QR code and text message while on the job” to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

The document was prepared by the legal team in Washington, D.C., for the National Association of Community Health Centers, or NACHC.

A taxpayer-funded voter turnout army

According to its website, Vot-ER is delivering grants of up to $10,000 to approved public health centers through its so-called community civic engagement program.

NACHC is partnered on the program, a 2024 application of which asks representatives from centers to provide information about whether their patients identify as “LGBTQIA+, Native American/Alaskan Native, Hispanic/Latinx,” or are “best served in a language other than English,” among other questions.

Vot-ER also lists hundreds of participating sites on its website that have coordinated with the group on voter registration, many of which are federally qualified health centers. Participating sites receive election-related materials from Vot-ER, including its badges with voting resources.

One group listed as a “participating site” on Vot-ER’s website is the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, the largest federally qualified health center in the Sunflower State. It services over 70,000 people, including in Oklahoma.

Footage reviewed by the Washington Examiner shows examples in which personnel at the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas touted their work turning out voters who ultimately rejected a 2022 anti-abortion referendum.

The videos call into question whether the health center has conducted itself in a nonpartisan fashion while being a participating Vot-ER site, according to Stewart Whitson, the attorney at FGA.

In a 2022 Vot-ER webinar, the center’s CEO, Krista Postai, said its “mostly female” and young “army” worked to send 65,000 text messages to patients about the referendum.

“And as you can see, we had an impact,” the CEO touted in the webinar, which also featured a Vot-ER adviser named Manisha Sharma, whose Zoom background depicted an image of feminist political activist and Marxist Angela Davis.

During a separate 2024 Vot-ER webinar about its prior partners, Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas Patient engagement director Leah Gagnon, who has made small-dollar donations to Biden and other Democrats, described how the center zeroed in on informing patients about the “reproductive healthcare” referendum. Gagnon said in the webinar that the group received a grant from Vot-ER and a matching grant from a related organization of Vot-ER.

Gagnon touted in the webinar how, after the referendum failed, Vot-ER was apparently thanked for its work by Lt. Gov. David Toland of Kansas, a Democrat.

“Kansas had some of the highest voting turnout we have historically had, especially for a primary election,” Gagnon said. “We were really excited about that. We got a cool little note from the lieutenant governor saying like, ‘Hey, that was badass, like you know, good job reaching your patients.”

Republican Kansas state Rep. Pat Proctor, who chairs the Elections Committee, told the Washington Examiner that Gagnon’s comments are cause for an investigation since it appears Toland may have acted partisan in his official capacity as lieutenant governor.

Kansas state GOP Rep. Pat Proctor, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Reached by phone, Proctor said he’ll now be conferring with other lawmakers about sending a letter to the Democratic governor to demand answers.

“This is outrageous,” said Proctor, who supported a bill vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly (D-KS) in April that would ban state agencies from using federal funds to administer elections without approval from the legislature. Kelly has notably received donations in recent years, including in 2022, from Postai, the center’s CEO, Kansas state records show.

Postai told the Washington Examiner she was unaware of Gagnon’s comments about Toland on the webinar. The CEO, who earned a salary of $404,760 in 2022, also claimed her center received no money directly from Vot-ER and said it is not using Vot-ER’s materials anymore to register voters.

“We do not take political positions or religious positions,” Postai said in a phone call. “I know people are analyzing to death what happened, but I don’t think it was about parties or politics. I think it was just women didn’t like being told — I don’t think anybody wants to be legislated.”

“You can’t legislate morality,” Postai said

Vot-ER did not respond to questions from the Washington Examiner about its relationship with Postai’s group.

‘Stinks to high heaven’

Meanwhile, Vot-ER also appears to have participating sites in various swing states before the November election.

Some are federally qualified health centers, such as Adelante Health Center in Maricopa County, Arizona, or Southern Nevada Community Health Center in Las Vegas. Other listed participating sites, such as Campesinos Sin Fronteras, are not in this category.

Campesinos Sin Fronteras, which calls itself “a grassroots social justice organization that promotes dignity and respect for Latino seasonal and migrant farmworkers and their families,” is located in a county in Arizona nestled on the U.S.-Mexico border. The registered charity reportedly helps transport and house undocumented immigrants.

It has also been linked to certain programs at public health centers in Arizona and received millions of dollars from the federal government.

To Spakovsky, the Heritage Foundation legal fellow, a troubling fact of Vot-ER’s operation with public health centers is the appearance of nonregistered welfare recipients being taken advantage of by healthcare professionals they rely on for care.

Michael Chamberlain, director of the ethics watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust, said it’s concerning that the Biden administration appears to be refashioning government programs into a sprawling get-out-the-vote operation to boost Democrats.


The White House did not reply to numerous requests for comment.

“This stinks to high heaven,” Chamberlain said.

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