In the last presidential election, Gen Z voters — those between the ages of 18 and 29 — supported Joe Biden over Donald Trump by a margin of 24 points (59–35%). And people in the Gen Z age range identify more with Democrats and less with Republicans than all other generations — except for millennials, who are just one percentage point behind in favoring Democrats.
Now the ostensibly “nonpartisan” American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has teamed up with a new Gen Z political group to try to shift the balance among young voters in favor of the GOP.
While it also presents itself as nonpartisan, Run GenZ was founded by a Republican legislator, is exclusively led by Republicans, and all of the “rising stars” and politicians in its promotional videos are Republicans. The group’s annual conference, held in Iowa shortly before the Republican caucus, was attended by Donald Trump and Nikki Haley.
“Run GenZ is going to help grow the next generation of conservative leaders in America by recruiting more young people that believe in free markets, capitalism, and individual liberty to run for office,” said U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA) in an endorsement video.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has long recognized “conservative” as a code word for partisan political activity.
“By partnering ALEC Action with Run GenZ, we will equip next-generation leaders who share our principles and vision for America,” said Lisa Nelson, CEO of both ALEC and ALEC Action, in announcing the new partnership on Jan. 5, 2024. The press release describes the relationship between the two groups as a “merger.”
ALEC’s announcement makes the electoral objectives of the groups crystal clear. “The RGZ mission to ‘Empower, Recruit, and Mentor’ the next generation of elected officials has produced more than 95 state and local elected leaders across this country,” the press release claims. Boasting a “win rate” of more than 70%, ALEC says Run GenZ will provide the conservative movement with “a strong bench of policy-savvy candidates for decades to come.”
“I like to say we’ve kind of cornered the market on getting young conservatives in their twenties elected to office,” Mason Morgan, Run GenZ’s then 26-year-old executive director, told Texas Monthly in 2022.
ALEC is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charitable organization that is prohibited by law from engaging in any electoral activity. Entering into the Run GenZ partnership through its advocacy arm, ALEC Action, does nothing to insulate ALEC from that prohibition since ALEC exclusively controls and largely funds it. ALEC Action (legally registered with the IRS as the Jeffersonian Project) is run by ALEC’s executive team, ALEC handpicks its board, and all decisions are subject to ALEC’s approval, according to the group’s 2022 tax return.
This is not ALEC’s first foray into electoral politics. For years, it has provided its legislative members with free access to ALEC CARE, sophisticated voter management software linked to the Republican National Committee’s voter database. The software, which would normally cost a legislator $3,000, was developed by VoterGravity, a partisan spin-off of GOP operative Ned Ryun’s American Majority.
Former Iowa State Rep. Joe Mitchell (R) — who was elected in 2018 when he was 21 and served until 2022 when he was defeated in the Republican primary — founded Run Gen Z in 2020 and serves as its president. Former Iowa Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer, a former ALEC board member, serves as secretary of the group’s board, and Barry Jackson, a Republican political strategist who was chief of staff for former U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), serves as treasurer. Boehner is an ALEC alumnus from when he was an Ohio state lawmaker.
Run GenZ raised $289,086 in contributions and grants in 2022 and had $346,360 in expenses.
Its new “strategic partnership” with ALEC Action is aimed not just at expanding ALEC’s bench of state legislators, but also at grooming young conservatives to win local elections.
Run GenZ’s “Municipal Council” of six Republican politicians could potentially boost the American City County Exchange (ACCE), ALEC’s organization of city and county public officials. ACCE’s mission is “to engage local elected officials and leaders from business and industry for the advancement of limited government and free market principles.”
Like ALEC, ACCE provides local officials with a host of model bills aimed at limiting taxes, privatizing services, busting unions, blocking local minimum wage increases, and achieving other right-wing objectives.
David Armiak contributed research to this report.