The Virginia House of Delegates has passed bi-partisan legislation in response to questionable tactics by an organization affiliated with Tom Steyer, a liberal mega-donor.
By a vote of 62-35, members of the Virginia state House this week approved House Bill 1. The legislation requires universities, colleges and K-12 schools to obtain written consent from a student or parent before contact information can be given to a third party, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The measure enjoyed modest bi-partisan support, with 12 Democrats joining the GOP in approving the bill. Thirty-five Democrats voted against it.
If passed in the state legislature and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, third parties would be mostly prohibited from obtaining student contact information through Virginia’s open records act.
The bill comes in response to actions taken by NextGen Virginia, a state-level progressive group tied to Steyer’s nationwide organization, NextGen America.
Ahead of the 2017 Virginia elections, NextGen took advantage of the state’s Freedom of Information Act to obtain thousands of student cell phone numbers from Radford University and Virginia Tech. The organization then offered this information to Democratic campaigns that proceeded to send the students mass text messages about voter registration and advertisements about their candidates.
Around 40,000 Virginia students had their personal contact information given to Democratic campaigns, without their consent, according to the Roanoke Times.
The operation was widely credited with helping Virginia Democrats make large gains in the state legislature last year. The GOP had previously dominated the Virginia House, but following massive losses at the ballot box in November 2017, Democrats are now at near parity with Republicans in the House of Delegates.
Funded almost entirely by Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager, NextGen is a progressive political action committee focused on combating climate change. The group aims to unseat Republicans in favor of Democratic candidates in order to enact more environmentally friendly laws and regulations.
The group took advantage of Virginia’s antiquated laws, where student directories at universities and public colleges have long been considered public domain and can be available to anybody who makes a request.
“I am appalled that NextGen Virginia, a political organization, would FOIA our students’ personal information for political uses,” said Del. Joseph Yost following the discovery of NextGen’s actions. “This is an invasion of their privacy and, even if it is legal, it is blatantly wrong.”
It didn’t take long for the current Virginia legislative session to work on preventing this issue from happening again.
“Protecting personal student information is more important than furthering any political campaign, political activist group or marketing effort,” said Del. Tony Wilt, a sponsor of the bill.
NextGen’s tactics in Virginia are just a snapshot of what Steyer is doing across the country.
The liberal billionaire has pledged to spend $30 million of his own money during the 2018 midterm cycle to elect Democrats and impeach President Trump. Steyer, who has already run ads calling for the removal of the president, said he will get heavily involved in House races.
Steyer is hoping to usher in a Democratic House majority, which he believes will then result in impeachment proceedings.
Steyer and NextGen had also spent millions in the 2014 midterm cycle.
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