California

He raised $9 million to challenge Devin Nunes. Now he’s out to protect voter rights

Andrew Janz launches Voter Protection Project to fight nationwide voter suppression

Fresno County prosecutor Andrew Janz, former congressional candidate, talks about launching the Voter Protection Project, a political organization to fight nationwide voter suppression.
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Fresno County prosecutor Andrew Janz, former congressional candidate, talks about launching the Voter Protection Project, a political organization to fight nationwide voter suppression.

Andrew Janz, the Fresno Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Devin Nunes in one of the country’s most contentious congressional races of 2018, announced the launch of a new political organization Wednesday that he says will work nationwide to protect voting rights, combat voter suppression and target “bad actors” who are on the wrong side of either issue.

The Voter Protection Project will seek to raise money in support of voter rights across the country, particularly in presidential swing states in which voters may propose initiatives: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada and Ohio. Janz said he also hopes to target states in which voters have recently been kept from voting or purged from rolls, offering Georgia and North Carolina as examples.

“We want to play a role in expanding voter rights and making sure that all Americans have access to the same voting rights we have in California: same-day registration, convenient early voting and automatic registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles,” Janz said.

Many of Janz’s goals align with the tenets set out in HR 1, the first bill submitted by the newly empowered Democratic House leadership. The legislation also seeks to curb hidden and big-money political donations and increase campaign ethical standards – all of which Janz said he fully supports.

Janz raised over $9 million – more than any other House challenger in the country – in his bid to unseat Nunes, the Tulare Republican and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Janz’s campaign said it did not accept corporate money, instead relying mostly on more than 200,000 individual donations.

He said he felt a responsibility to use his fundraising chops and visibility to make some sort of political impact. He mulled a run for a vacated Fresno County supervisor seat before ultimately deciding against it.

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The new organization also allows Janz, a Fresno County prosecutor who plans to keep his day job, to perhaps retain political relevancy during an off year. He came within five percentage points of Nunes – by far the closest general election contest the eight-term congressman has faced in the predominantly Republican 22nd District – and appears likely to challenge Nunes again in 2020.

Janz confirmed that the forming of his organization does not mean he has ruled out challenging Nunes or seeking another office in 2020.

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The project will support grassroots voter registration efforts and progressive candidates, as well as amend state laws to allow for more participation, Janz said. It will also advocate for “no excuse” absentee voting, allowing anyone to vote by mail without having to give a reason, as well as increasing the number of polling places and elections staff.

What differentiates his group from typical voter advocacy organizations, he added, is that he will actively target candidates or groups who he believes are trying to limit voter participation. Janz spent over a year and millions of campaign dollars attacking Nunes, who he said is among these “bad actors” who both covered up Russian meddling in the 2016 election and sought to discourage new voters in the 2018 election.

The Voter Protection Project will be classified as a Hybrid PAC. This means it will maintain two separate bank accounts: One that will be subject to federal election rules and contribution limits that can be used to support or oppose specific candidates, and a second fund not subject to any contribution limits that can be used for operational expenses, generic voter drives and a handful of other specific political actions.

Janz said he hopes to raise another $10 million before the 2020 elections. This feat may prove difficult, as reaction to Nunes’ increasingly controversial behavior was believed to be a catalyst for Janz’s 2018 fundraising success. However, Janz could adopt a similar strategy for his PAC, targeting Republican candidates and leaders like Nunes and President Donald Trump.

“We can’t wait until 2020 to deal with these voter rights issues,” Janz said. “It has to start now. I feel as if I have a large microphone (after the Nunes race), and I can play a part in these races across the country.”

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Rory Appleton is a fourth-generation Fresnan who covers politics for his hometown newspaper. A Fresno State graduate, he has won six first-place California News Publishers Association awards and a McClatchy President’s Award for his reporting and column writing over the last two years.

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