Ranked choice voting push bankrolled by former Enron executive in Texas

For a little over $2 million, a bored Texas billionaire can impose a brand-new voting system on a state 1,200 miles away.

John Arnold (YouTube/Arnold Ventures)

(Center of the American Experiment) — As ranked-choice voting (RCV) races ahead in Minnesota, we pause to Follow the MoneyTM.

The bill to implement RCV in state and federal elections (HF 2486/SF 2270) has passed through committees in both the state House and Senate.

The group promoting the measure in the state goes by the name FairVote MN. The organization has been around for a while, originally incorporated back in 1998.

As is standard for such things, the nonprofit has a 501(c)(3) unit (FairVote Minnesota Foundation), a 501(c)(4) (FairVote Minnesota) and a political arm (FairVote MN Action Fund).

The most recent tax returns publicly available for these entities date from 2019. At that time, each nonprofit had revenues in the range of $500,000 per year.

In their state lobbying reports, FairVote MN reports spending a total of $1.7 million over the past four years (2019 through 2022). The group currently has 14 lobbyists registered to represent it.

Direct election efforts have been more modest at the state level. The Action Fund reports spending only a few thousand dollars over the past two election cycles. The Action Fund did give the DFL House Caucus $50,000 in cash last year. The donation was not recorded in the PAC’s campaign finance report last year.

The largest single donor to the cause appears to be Texas billionaire John Arnold, who donated almost $2 million over the past three years to the Minnesota group, with millions more given to the national FairVote operation.

We profiled Arnold and his Minnesota political giving back in August. He’s a former Enron executive (he got out way ahead of the scandal), who was able to retire a billionaire at age 38.

Arnold’s donation of $150,000 to the “centrist” More Voices Minnesota PAC (staffed by FairVote MN) funded the group’s election operations in 2022. Surprise, surprise, the biggest expenditure More Voices had in 2022 was its $140,000 in donations to the state Democratic Party.

Arnold personally gave the maximum $4,000 donation to Gov. Tim Walz’s campaign last year. John’s wife Laura matched that with another $4,000.

The Arnolds also gave $500,000 to Minnesota Public Radio. MPR News reports that “Democrats see ‘mandate’ to rewrite election laws.”

They also gave $50,000 to the Democrat funding arm WIN Minnesota “to provide support for education and issue advocacy activities related to ranked choice voting in Minnesota.”

What’s remarkable about all this is how cheaply a state like Minnesota can be bought. For a little over $2 million, a bored Texas billionaire can impose a brand-new voting system on a state 1,200 miles away.

Our exclusive Thinking Minnesota poll of Minnesota voters shows that ranked choice enjoys only 34 percent support in the state.

Although a number of citizen-voters showed up last week to express their opposition to the bill, they are no match for FairVote’s millions of dollars and army of 14 lobbyists patrolling the halls of the Capitol.


Bill Glahn

Bill Glahn is an Adjunct Policy Fellow with Center of the American Experiment.