Non-profit

Ballot Initiative Strategy Center

Location:

WASHINGTON, DC

Tax ID:

04-3411708

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Budget (2016):

Revenue: $2,031,384
Expenses: $1,728,695
Assets: $1,556,449

Type:

Campaign Group

Formation:

1996, 1998, and 1999

Board Chair:

Gail Stoltz

Founded as a 501(c)(4) corporation and then a 501(c)(3) foundation in the late 1990s, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) provides research and other support to progressive groups seeking to use state-level ballot referenda to change laws and constitutions, as well as using legal and activist tactics to block conservatives’ attempts to do the same. The organization’s revenue tripled from 2004 to 2012, to $2.4 million.[1][2]

Founding

In 1996, the progressive group People for the American Way began BISC as a multi-group project.[3] BISC filed as the 501(c)(4) nonprofit Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Inc. in 1998,[4] allowing political lobbying, and as the 501(c)(3) Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation in 1999,[5] allowing the organization to accept tax-deductible donations.

Organizational Overview

BISC’s original emphasis on countering “right-wing ballot measures” has expanded to include a “rogues gallery” list of conservative activists and resources for tracking and responding to initiatives on a state-by-state basis.[6] The organization has also increased its activity and resources for initiating ballot measures that advance left-of-center policies, such as the minimum wage, LGBT issues, and abortion access.

In that regard, BISC seeks to leverage the ballot initiative process more comprehensively to affect election turnout, maneuver politicians, and build progressive organizations’ voter lists and resources. With Republicans’ historic success at both the state and federal levels, BISC is promoting ballot initiatives as an area of focus to enact liberal policies and block conservative ones.[7] This effort includes a “Victory 2020 program,” coordinating “a multi-cycle, multi-state strategy to move progressive ballot measures.”[8]

Funding

The organization keeps its donor list private; known sources of donations to BISC, however, include a number of labor unions, left-leaning foundations, NARAL (formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League), and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations.[9][10][11]

BISC also plays a role in shuffling money among progressive organizations. In 2014, for example, the foundation paid $131,500 to Planned Parenthood and $108,247 to Lake Research Partners for “research.”[12]

People

BISC’s current executive director is Justine Sarver, whose total compensation from both BISC entities exceeds $175,000. In the past, Sarver worked for President Barack Obama during his campaign and transition, as well as a deputy chief of staff in the Department of Health and Human Services in President Obama’s administration. Before that, she worked for the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California.

Other employees of BISC have experience working for labor unions, pro-abortion groups, and other progressive organizations.[13]

References

  1. “Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation.” ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer. Accessed January 8, 2017. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/43454684. ^
  2. “Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Inc.” ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer. Accessed January 8, 2017. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/43411708. ^
  3. “The BISC Mission.” Internet Archive WayBackMachine. Captured April 22, 1999. Accessed January 8, 2017. http://web.archive.org/web/19990422234830/http://ballot.org/background/home.htm. ^
  4. “Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Inc.” GuideStar. Accessed January 8, 2017. http://www.guidestar.org/profile/04-3411708. ^
  5. “Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation” GuideStar. Accessed January 8, 2017. http://www.guidestar.org/profile/04-3454684. ^
  6. Dellinger, James, and Karl Crow. “The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center: How It Promotes Big Labor’s Political Strategy.” Capital Research Center Labor Watch. April 2008. Accessed January 8, 2017. https://www.scribd.com/document/140833117/The-Ballot-Initiative-Strategy-Center-How-It-Promotes-Big-Labor-s-Political-Strategy. ^
  7. “What We Stand For.” Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. Accessed January 8, 2017. https://ballot.org/why-were-here/what-we-stand-for/. ^
  8. “Staff Bios.” Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. Accessed January 8, 2017. https://ballot.org/who-we-are/staff-bios/ ^
  9. “Show me contributions to Ballot Initiative Strategy Center that supported or opposed ballot measures.” National Institute on Money in State Politics. Accessed January 8, 2017. http://www.followthemoney.org/show-me?m-t-eid=5938#[{1|gro=f-eid,d-eid. ^
  10. Dellinger, James, and Karl Crow. “The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center: How It Promotes Big Labor’s Political Strategy.” Capital Research Center Labor Watch. April 2008. Accessed January 8, 2017. https://www.scribd.com/document/140833117/The-Ballot-Initiative-Strategy-Center-How-It-Promotes-Big-Labor-s-Political-Strategy. ^
  11. “U.S. Programs: Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation.” Open Society Foundations. Accessed January 8, 2017. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/about/programs/us-programs/grantees/ballot-initiative-strategy-center-foundation-0. ^
  12. U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Form 990. “Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation.” 2014 Accessed January 8, 2017. http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2014/043/454/2014-043454684-0c055224-9.pdf. ^
  13. “Staff Bios.” Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. Accessed January 8, 2017. https://ballot.org/who-we-are/staff-bios/. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Greg Speed
    Board Member
  2. Justine Sarver
    Executive Director
  3. Dana Laurent
    Director of Strategic Initiatives
  4. Steven Cole-Schwartz
    Former Deputy Executive Director
  5. Mike Lux
    Co-Founder
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: August 1, 1998

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2016 Dec Form 990 $2,031,384 $1,728,695 $1,556,449 $151,518 N $1,868,260 $162,877 $0 $129,956
    2015 Dec Form 990 $1,872,794 $1,435,752 $1,285,029 $182,787 N $1,648,061 $194,345 $0 $95,101 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $1,197,531 $1,072,417 $801,447 $136,247 N $1,130,000 $65,965 $0 $70,347 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $1,047,114 $815,804 $732,818 $192,732 N $1,007,400 $38,223 $0 $131,495 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $1,753,047 $1,753,963 $360,246 $51,470 N $1,703,369 $44,396 $2 $105,206 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990 $1,136,928 $1,111,243 $339,547 $38,500 N $1,081,500 $52,187 $373 $100,217 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Ballot Initiative Strategy Center

    1825 K STREET NW
    WASHINGTON, DC 20006-1202