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Meet the Right-Wing Bankrollers Behind High Court Challenges to the Voting Rights Act and Affirmative Action

Ed Blum and the Bradley Foundation are one for two this term. They'll be back.

Photo Credit: Jerric Ramos/


The Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation is one-for-two in legal challenges to civil rights and racial equality this term, with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in one case bankrolled by Bradley, and in another, remanding an affirmative action case to a lower court, turning back the Bradley-backed challenge. The cases represent the latest in the Bradley Foundation's long-term effort to dismantle the gains of the civil rights era.

In the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Court effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, which had required states with a history of legalized racial discrimination to get pre-approval from the federal government before making changes to either voting laws or procedures. One day earlier, in Fisher v. University of Texas, the Court punted on a challenge to affirmative action, sending the case back to a lower court rather than outright prohibiting the consideration of race in college admissions.

The challenges to both the Voting Rights Act and university affirmative action programs were organized by the same activist, who has acknowledged that he receives funding from the  Bradley Foundation -- a Milwaukee-based funder of right-wing causes that has long targeted racial equity.

Same Group and Donors Behind Fisher and Shelby County Cases

The group that brought both challenges is the Project on Fair Representation, a legal defense fund dedicated to reversing race-based legal protections and whose website says it devotes “all of its efforts to influencing jurisprudence, public policy, and public attitudes regarding race and ethnicity.” The Project was founded and led by one person, Ed Blum, who coordinated the challenges in both the Fisher and Shelby County cases.

Blum has likened his role in high-profile litigation to "Yenta the matchmaker." "I find the plaintiff, I find the lawyer, and I put them together, and then I worry about it for four years," he  said.

Blum urged Shelby County, Alabama, to bring its Section 5 challenge after the Department of Justice blocked its effort to dilute the voting power of its growing African-American population. He also connected with Abigail Fisher, a white student who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin and claimed it was because of her race. Blum was also behind the last Voting Rights Act challenge to make it to the Supreme Court, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder.

The Project on Fair Representation covered the legal fees in both the Shelby County and Fisher cases using funds filtered through the secretive Donors Trust, which has been  described as a "Dark Money ATM" since it stealthily funnels money from the Kochs, Bradley and other funders to organizations in the right-wing network.

Typically, the identity of Donors Trust funders remain secret, but  two of Blum's donors have been revealed: the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, which gave at least $100,000 to bankroll Blum's latest legal challenges, and the Searle Freedom Trust, which for years has funded the Project on Fair Representation.

Bradley, which is headed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's campaign chair Michael Grebe, hands out $30 million in grants each year, and its support of Blum's group is only one example of its long-term effort to roll-back both voting rights and affirmative action.

With Bradley-Funded Challenge, Court Eviscerates Voting Rights Act

"Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions," Roberts wrote in the Shelby County case, joined by four other conservative justices. "African- American voter turnout has come to exceed white voter turnout in five of the six States originally covered by §5 [of the Act], with a gap in the sixth State of less than one half of one percent."