The Institute for Research on Presidential Elections (IRPE), a supposedly non-partisan non-profit, has invited some Maine lawmakers on an indulgent Miami Beach junket, but the invitation may not be advertised honestly.
Invitations for the trip, originally scheduled for mid-November but now delayed to January, bill it is an “educational seminar on presidential elections and the Electoral College.” The Institute generously promises to cover costs for travel and accommodation for up to three nights.
The invitation does not say that IRPE has a specific agenda, but the organization is controlled and staffed by advocates for the National Popular Vote interstate compact (NPV).
The group’s CFO/Treasurer is John Koza, the wealthy Californian and longtime Democratic donor, who created the NPV compact and runs the eponymous lobbying group, National Popular Vote, Inc.
The aim of the compact is to achieve de facto national popular votes in presidential elections by convincing a majority of states to delegate electors according to the national popular vote rather than the constitutionally prescribed Electoral College. Such an outcome would drastically increase the power of large cities, like New York and Los Angeles, in determining who sits in the White House.
While many Democrats oppose NPV, it is even less popular with Republicans, and only “blue” states have joined the compact so far. This appears to have led NPV, Inc. to focus much of its paid lobbying and other efforts on Republican legislators, often using all-expenses-paid junkets to swanky resorts. Three NPV spokesmen are key to this effort: Saul Anuzis (former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party), Ray Haynes (former California state senator), and Patrick Rosenstiel (a contract lobbyist and Republican political consultant). The three are board members of IRPE, along with Koza. Anuzis was also IRPE’s highest paid employee as of its 2020 tax filing.
All this may be legal, even if it misleads elected officials and their constituents.
Previous IRPE trips have also raised questions about just how far lobbyists are going to push the NPV compact. Politico reported in 2017 that the campaign for NPV “is being waged at booze-soaked junkets in luxury hotels around the country and even abroad [by] an obscure entity called the Institute for Research on Presidential Elections.”
That story resulted from an IRPE junket for journalists, described by Politico’s Tim Alberta:
“It was mid-February, inside a four-star resort in a third-world country, when I heard the pitch to transform American democracy. The institute flew 11 political journalists to Panama for an “educational seminar”…. The trip presented a bargain: three days of sunshine, sightseeing, fine dining and free cocktails on the institute’s dime, in exchange for being educated by seminar coordinators in the pool, at the bar, overlooking the Panama Canal—and most aggressively, during the five-hour workshop in a windowless conference room—about the history and weaknesses of the Electoral College, and the potential of a radical alternative.”
Maine legislators have rejected NPV legislation multiple times, including in several bipartisan House votes in 2019. In addition to support for the Electoral College, another reason for resistance to NPV in Maine is that the compact was written prior to any states using ranked-choice voting. The NPV compact assumes that each state will conduct its election for presidential electors in the same way, reporting a single set of results. This is not how ranked-choice voting works, and if any state used it while the NPV compact was in effect it could create uncertainty about the legitimate national popular vote total.
Such defects in the NPV compact are unlikely to appear on the agenda at “educational seminars” hosted by NPV lobbyists.