The Institute for Research on Presidential Elections (IRPE) was launched in 2006 to advocate for replacing the state-by-state Electoral College system of Presidential elections with a nationwide popular vote. Its founder is John Koza, a left-leaning California businessman who made his fortune by inventing the scratch-off lottery ticket.
In 2001, Robert Bennett, a professor at Northwestern University Law School, published Popular Election of the President Without a Constitutional Amendment. In the paper, he argued it is “entirely possible that just a few states – conceivably just one or two – could bring about de facto direct election. And if that were to occur, opposition to a constitutional amendment might just melt away.” Bennett admitted that a move to a nationwide popular vote was not “obviously a good thing.”
Building upon Bennett’s paper, brothers Akhil Reed Amar and Vikram David Amar authored How to Achieve Direct National Election of the President Without Amending the Constitution. The article focused on eleven key states that would be sufficient to put a direct election system into effect. They even went so far as to argue that once enough states join their conceived compact to trigger the 270 electoral vote threshold, any states not involved in the compact could be ignored and their elections viewed as “sideshows.”
Based upon the work of Bennett and the Amar brothers, Koza led the efforts to write the book that served as the foundation for IRPE, Every Vote Equal. Koza wrote the book with Barry Fadem, Mark Grueskin, Michael Mandell, Robert Richie, and Joseph Zimmerman. Along with publication of the book, Koza officially formed IRPE, along with a sister organization, National Popular Vote, which serves as its 501(c)4 lobbying arm.
According to one recent in depth analysis of the organization, IRPE is better described as “the most viable campaign to change how Americans choose their leader [and] is being waged at booze-soaked junkets in luxury hotels around the country and even abroad.” According to this analysis, it “peddles a controversial idea: that state legislatures can put the popular-vote winner in the White House.”
In order to lure legislators, activists, and journalists to their seminars espousing the replacement of the constitutionally prescribed Electoral College with a national popular vote, IRPE has been known to host junkets “inside a four-star resort in a third-world country.” The arrangement for attendees is often as follows: “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.”
IRPE and National Popular Vote advocate a legislative proposal, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, under which states independently pledge their Electors to whomever wins a plurality of the national votes cast. The legislation contains a “trigger clause” which activates when enough states have joined the Compact to account for 270 electoral votes.
The most recent federal filing in 2016 showed revenue of $550,504 and total expenditures of $593,470, representing a $42,966 operating deficit for the year. The 2016 balance sheet showed a net fund balance of $27,600. These numbers reflect a significant weakening of the organization’s financial position. The prior year’s revenue totaled $1,278,318, over twice as much as the 2016 revenue amount. While the previous year’s expenses were also significantly greater at $1,207,752, the operating budget for the previous year remained a positive $70,566. Additionally, the 2015 balance sheet showed a net fund balance of $70,566.
Compensation of current officers accounted for $235,971 of the organization’s expenditures, in addition to an undetailed $230,469 in “management” fees for services. Additionally, the organization spent $61,173 on conferences, conventions and meetings.
Chairman Patrick Rosenstiel received $38,171 in compensation, president Ray Haynes received $46,500 in compensation, vice president Saul Anuzis received $120,000 in compensation, CFO/treasurer John Koza did not receive any compensation as a member of the board, and the secretary Larry Lessler received $31,300 in compensation. All of the members, including Anuzis, received their compensation for an estimated average of ten hours of work per week.
It appears that Koza has largely funded the organization. Koza has stated in interviews “he has spent more than $14 million on the project so far and has budgeted at least $2 million per year moving forward.”
The individuals involved include Republican operatives and well-known progressive Democrats.
The chairman of IRPE is Patrick Rosenstiel, who serves as the CEO of Ainsley Shea, a Minnesota-based public affairs firm. Ainsley Shea prominently displays the National Popular Vote project on its website as one of its key client matters. Among other campaigns and efforts, he claims to have advised Republican Steve Forbes’ Presidential campaign and to have served as a political field director related to “efforts across the West and Midwest to garner Senate support for U.S. Supreme Court candidates John Roberts and Samuel Alito.”
The president of IRPE is Ray Haynes, a former California state legislator and Republican. A former liberal attorney, Haynes has described in detail his transition to a conservative philosophy following his involvement in a California “right to die” case. In 2000, he served as national chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Following his fourteen years in the state legislature, in 2014 he explored and ultimately entered a Congressional primary. He did not advance out of the primary.
The Vice President of IRPE, Saul Anuzis, has a long history in Republican politics, both in Michigan and nationally. After serving in numerous GOP roles in Michigan, he was elevated to Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party in 2005. After serving one term as Michigan’s RNC Committeeman, he was defeated by the controversial social conservative firebrand Dave Agema in 2012 in what some described as an “upheaval.” Prior to his ouster from the RNC, he unsuccessfully ran for RNC Chairman in 2009 and 2011. In 2016, he served as an advisor to the Ted Cruz Presidential campaign.
John Koza, the founder of IRPE, also serves as its CFO/treasurer. Koza has long been interested in the Electoral College. In 1966, he published a board game involving Electoral College strategy. He made much of his personal wealth between 1973 and 1987, when he served as co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Scientific Games Inc. There, he co-invented the rub-off instant lottery ticket used by state lotteries. He is the lead author of the book Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote. Koza has admitted his partisan bent, noting that he decided to form IRPE “two years after [President] Bush’s reelection, which boiled down to battleground Ohio, to wage war on the Electoral College.”
The secretary of IRP is Larry Lessler, a San Francisco-area CPA. Other individuals noted as being involved with IRPE but not listed as a member of the board include Scott Drexel, Stephen Silberstein, Chris Pearson, and Barry Fadem. Fadem is a California lawyer that specializes in campaign and election law and co-authored Every Vote Equal. Pearson is a Vermont state legislator and member of the left-wing Vermont Progressive Party. He previously was Director of the Presidential Election Reform program at Fair Vote (formerly the Center for Voting and Democracy) and a campaign and Congressional aide for left-wing then-U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). Most recently he has pushed legislation that would limit the salaries of nonprofit employees. Silberstein worked in the administration of the University of California, Berkeley and serves on several boards associated with Berkeley. Finally, Drexel is the Managing Director of NMA Partners and has been an “advisor to some of the country’s most active Democratic donors, activists, and business leaders” in addition to serving on finance committees “for several national Democratic committees.”