State and local governments are sending the message they care enough about the credibility of elections to reject the taint of private money.
On March 29, the Georgia legislature gave final approval to a stricter ban on private money for running public elections. This came after the same left-leaning group that doled out the Mark Zuckerberg elections grants in 2020 attempted to skirt the existing ban with a $2 million grant to DeKalb County.
It’s been about a year since the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life—which doled out $350 million in Zuckerberg grants—launched the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence. A five-year, $80 billion project, the CTCL is a partnership with other organizations—including one funded by the far-left political funder Arabella Advisors. But the alliance, which is primarily a CTCL operation, has faced plenty of skepticism.
The North Carolina counties of Brunswick and Forsyth opted against taking money from the alliance, as did Ottawa County, Michigan. Greenwich, Connecticut—among the wealthiest municipalities in the United States—nearly rejected a $500,000 grant for its elections department, but the cash proved too alluring. However, these are among the 15 jurisdictions that remain members of the alliance.
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It should be encouraging that accepting money from the alliance has proved so contentious. It demonstrates that public opinion is solidly against allowing wealthy individuals or private organizations to finance the running of public elections. It’s why 24 states banned or restricted private funding of election administration.
Still, the alliance may have found a way around the funding bans without cash–by getting a foot in the door of election offices with training and promoting “best practices.”
Lawmakers at the federal, state and local levels are taking notice.
In the aforementioned case of Georgia, the 2021 state election reform prohibited funding specifically to election offices. So the alliance gave $2 million to the DeKalb County treasury—which then gave it to the elections department. In the wake of this clever move, the Georgia legislature plugged loopholes in the letter of the law.
Idaho, Montana and North Carolina have also advanced legislation to either enact or tighten existing bans.
Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., co-chairwoman of the House Election Integrity Caucus, introduced a reasonable bill to amend the tax code to prohibit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations from directly funding election administration through donations or donated services. The donated services would seemingly encompass what the alliance is doing.
This is one of the best reforms that could come out of Congress, since it should be up to states to run elections, not the federal government. But clearly Congress has a say over tax laws and tax-exempt status.
Zuckerberg swore off funding any more election administration. Perhaps that’s because it was such a public relations nightmare, or perhaps Joe Biden’s election meant the mission was accomplished. Either way, one billionaire—regardless of his political persuasion—pouring vast sums into the running of elections does not pass the smell test for most Americans.
Notably, the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence is chiefly financed by The Audacious Project. Inside Philanthropy describes its donors as “a tech-heavy group of funders that lean liberal in their grantmaking.” So in theory, a group of wealthy, left-leaning donors is preferable to one Big Tech oligarch. But the point is the taint of private money.
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Zuckerberg said the grants were to help election offices deal with the pandemic, but almost none of the money was used for personal protective equipment. Further, he gave $350 million to an organization clearly identified as left-leaning. The Center for Tech and Civic Life is mostly is funded by left-of-center donors such as the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation.
As noted in my book, “The Myth of Voter Suppression,” the CTCL was founded in 2012 by Tiana Epps-Johnson, Donny Bridges, and Whitney May, all of whom previously worked together at the New Organizing Institute, which the Washington Post referred to as “the Democratic Party’s Hogwarts of digital wizardry.”
While the group notes it issued grants to 2,500 US election offices in 49 states, analysis of the grants from the Foundation on Government Accountability show the money went disproportionately to blue areas.
For Wisconsin, Zuckerberg grants were divided almost entirely among Democrat strongholds. The state House of Representatives appointed former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman as special counsel, and he determined the state’s grants were used as “impermissible and partisan get out the vote efforts.”
American elections shouldn’t be bankrolled by billionaires of either side. In 2020, this helped drive up the Democrat voter participation to the disdain of Republicans. But it’s quite likely Democrats would not be happy if Koch Industries, or any billionaire or entity on the right, used their fortune to push government operations to drive up the vote in Republican areas.
If bipartisanship comes on this matter, it will likely have to occur after both parties feel put upon.
This piece originally appeared in the Daily Caller