“It’s a bit like the Catholic Church appointing a self-proclaimed atheist cardinal,” said Max Boot, senior researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Elise Stefanik is part of the threat to American democracy. It is a travesty that she sits on the board of directors of an institution whose goal is to promote democracy.
Stefanik’s remarks also caused internal tensions within the non-partisan organization funded by Congress. After the January 6 Capitol riots, some NED staff circulated a letter internally expressing concerns about his position on the board, according to four people familiar with the matter.
“There was a lot of unhappiness from the staff,” said one of the locals.
A spokesperson for the NED confirmed that the group’s chairman, Carl Gershman, received the letter and informed the board of its contents. When the board met on January 8, the members discussed both the insurgency and Stefanik’s position on the board for about half an hour. Stefanik did not attend the meeting and no formal votes or actions were taken regarding his membership, according to a person familiar with the meeting. But some board members bristled at the staff trying to interfere with the makeup of the board.
“Who sits on the board is a decision of the board and staff play no role in it,” a member of the NED board said in a text message. “It is totally inappropriate for them to try to veto Council members.”
In the end, NED officials did not budge. Although the group spoke out against violence on the nation’s Capitol, it remained firmly convinced of the need for bipartisan representation in its ranks.
“The Foundation is a congressionally funded and authorized organization and as such has relied on and enjoyed broad bipartisan support,” NED President Kenneth Wollack said in a statement. “This support is even more remarkable given the polarized political environment in our country. We do not have litmus tests on the opinions expressed by individual Board members. “
Asked for comment, Gershman, who will be retiring later this summer, said: “People are being elected to three-year terms and she is in her first term and that’s all I have to say to this subject.”
Ali Pardo, spokeswoman for Stefanik, said the congresswoman was “proud to have one of the strongest records in the House in supporting and leading bipartisan efforts to fund the National Endowment of Democracy and the mission to support and strengthen democratic institutions around the world “.
She added that “MP Stefanik is one of the most prominent voices against authoritarian regimes like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, especially through her work at House Armed Services. Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence “.
The National Endowment for Democracy was founded in 1983 as an independent but government-funded nonprofit with the aim of strengthening democratic institutions by supporting civil society around the world. President Ronald Reagan, in a speech in 1982, called for the creation of such an organization to “foster the infrastructure of democracy” and Congress authorized the funding the following year.
Over the years, it has awarded small grants to thousands of private civil society groups and has gained a reputation for supporting groups promoting democratic values and institutions in closed societies and emerging democracies. It spends $ 300 million a year to fund activists who work on free and fair elections, free markets and human and labor rights in projects in over 100 countries.
Stefanik was elected to the board of directors in January 2019. A Harvard graduate who had quickly risen through the ranks of Republican institutions, she was seen as a promising and policy-conscious conservative. She had worked in the Bush White House on the Home Policy Council and was a staff member for Paul Ryan’s 2012 Vice Presidential Campaign; Establishment figures like Tim Pawlenty and Paul Ryan have defended his career. When she won a 2015 congressional seat in an upstate New York district at the age of 30, she immediately became a star in the GOP firmament.
But less than a year after joining NED, the MP’s reputation has changed. She played a leading role in the defense of then-President Donald Trump during his first impeachment, even winning a cry in the White House after his acquittal in the Senate. After the 2020 election, she questioned whether the presidential results in Georgia – a state Joe Biden narrowly won – were fraudulent, claiming that “140,000 votes came from underage, deceased and otherwise unauthorized voters” in Fulton County. No such fraud took place although Stefanik did not back down on his initial accusation.
On the day of the Capitol riots, Stefanik condemned the violence but refused to blame Trump for instigating it. She then voted to oppose certification of Biden voters in four states.
“President-elect Biden was certified, but this debate was important to the American people,” she said.
In the weeks and months that followed, Stefanik voted against setting up a commission to look into what happened on January 6. She also told Steve Bannon’s radio show in May that she “fully” supported the widely criticized Arizona election “audit”. in that state’s presidential vote.
Her alliance with Trump has helped her rise politically. When the Republican Party decided to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) As speaker of the House Republican Conference, its members turned to Stefanik to replace him. When Stefanik got the job, she thanked Trump for his support.
Stefanik is not the only sitting legislator working with NED. Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) And Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) Are honorary members of the board of directors. Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif.) Is an NED officer, serving as Vice President.
Stefanik is also not the only congressman to vote against voter certification while serving on a prestige bipartisan board. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Who voted against certification, currently serves on the board of directors of the Fulbright Association, a Fulbright program alumni organization that has spoken out against the 6 insurgency. January.
Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) voted against certification and also sits on the board of trustees of Texas Christian University, where a brief lobby campaign has been launched for him to be fired after the Capitol riot.
Although NED focuses almost exclusively on promoting democracy abroad, the organization has weighed on the insurgency on Capitol Hill. In a statement, he called the event a “violent and seditious aggression” and said that “after free and fair elections, when the incumbents are defeated, a peaceful transfer of power must result”.
“The integrity of the elections in this country is an appropriate topic for the NED, although it is not its goal, and I think that the respect for the integrity of the election that we have just experienced is something that I am sure most [board members] care, ”said former Republican congressman Vin Weber, who served as president of the NED from 2001 to 2009. Weber declined to discuss Stefanik’s role on the board specifically.
In its April 2021 issue, the Journal of Democracy – an initiative of the NED and published jointly by the NED and Johns Hopkins University – published an article exposing lies about electoral fraud in the United States, claiming that he had “cemented a perception among tens of millions of people. Americans that the election was “rigged” “and” fabricated mistrust “that” deeply damaged our democracy; the way to fix it is not at all clear.
One of the authors of this article, Charles Stewart III, professor of political science at MIT, said Stefanik was a “gentle facilitator, certainly” of Trump. But he also said he believed she could continue to serve on NED’s board.
“I wish Republicans weren’t down the path of even harsh or soft denial of the election result, but it seems to me that if we’re going to have bipartisan boards and commissions, we will inevitably have people who have stood up for parties. of Trump’s denial, “he said. “It’s kind of the nature of bipartisanship these days.”