by Fred Lucas
As the Georgia General Assembly advances a bill to further restrict private money from bankrolling elections—as occurred with Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg’s grants in the 2020 elections—congressional Republicans are reintroducing a similar measure.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a measure on March 8 to strengthen an existing ban on private dollars funding election administration in his state.
In February, the Montana state Senate passed Senate Bill 117, but the measure is still pending in the House there.
Lawmakers in North Carolina are also considering a ban in the form of Senate Bill 89. However, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed a similar measure in the past.
Meanwhile, back in Georgia, Senate Bill 222, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Max Burns, would close loopholes in existing laws banning private money, after DeKalb County found a legal means of getting $2 million in private funding for its elections office.
The legislation cleared the state Senate earlier this month, and on Wednesday, it was approved by the Georgia House Governmental Affairs Committee. It appears poised to pass the Republican-controlled House and go to the desk of Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, for signing into law.
The same day the Georgia House committee advanced its bill, Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., co-chair of the House Election Integrity Caucus, reintroduced the “End Zuckerbucks Act.”
Tenney told The Daily Signal in January she was considering reintroducing the legislation she first sponsored in 2021 in light of the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence doling out grants to election offices. The alliance was established by the Center for Tech and Civic Life, the same organization that distributed the Zuckerberg grants in 2020.
This federal legislation would amend the Internal Revenue Code to prohibit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations from directly funding official election administration through donations or donated services.
“CTCL funneled Mark Zuckerberg’s personal wealth to election agencies of his choosing without a shred of transparency or accountability,” Tenney said in a public statement. “This kind of influence operation by a third party in America’s elections undermines public confidence in the democratic process.”
Although Zuckerberg has said he won’t be funding elections in the future, many lawmakers are concerned about the influence of private money over the administration of elections. Private money, whatever its origin, is still broadly referred to as either “Zuckerbucks” or “Zuck Bucks” by critics.
“It puts private donors in charge of dictating to government agencies what should and should not be done,” Tenney continued. “We cannot allow organizations like this to flout the law or continue their partisan, private funding of our elections.”
As explained in the book “The Myth of Voter Suppression,” Zuckerberg’s $400 million in the 2020 elections went heavily disproportionately to Democratic-leaning county election offices. To investigate the matter, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin House of Representatives appointed a special counsel, who concluded in a 2022 report that the money amounted to a state-sanctioned, partisan get-out-the-vote campaign.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life, which handles press inquiries for the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, did not respond to inquiries from The Daily Signal for this article.
The largest funder of the alliance’s $80 million, five-year initiative is The Audacious Project, financed largely by people connected with the Big Tech sector, including Microsoft and Amazon. Inside Philanthropy describes The Audacity Project’s funders as “a tech-heavy group of funders that lean liberal in their grant-making.”
The alliance, established in April 2022, is led by the Center for Tech and Civic Life in partnership with other organizations–including liberal groups bankrolled by Arabella Advisors and the Democracy Fund.
“I’m pleased to see the attention paid to this direct and indirect funding, but further tightening of these laws will have to be ongoing,” Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. “The CTCL has an agenda to push and will look for ways around existing laws.”
Almost half of the states have passed bans on private money going to election administration. However, the Alliance for Election Excellence has still found its way into these states.
For example, the alliance made two counties in Utah members of the alliance—albeit without giving grants—in a state where such grants are prohibited. Boone County, Missouri, where a state ban exists, still joined the alliance.
The bigger controversy occurred when DeKalb County, Georgia, took a $2 million grant from the alliance, despite Georgia’s ban on election offices accepting private donations. However, in this case, the county said it followed the letter of the law because the money went to the broader county treasury. From there, it was allocated to the election office.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, in an interview with The Daily Signal in February said the DeKalb grant violated the spirit of the state law and called for the legislature to plug the loophole.
“It was the will of the General Assembly that if outside organizations wanted to help supply funding for counties, it would actually be channeled through the state election board, so that it could then disburse the funds on an equitable basis,” Raffensperger said.
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Fred Lucas is chief news correspondent and manager of the Investigative Reporting Project for The Daily Signal. Lucas is also the author of “The Myth of Voter Suppression: The Left’s Assault on Clean Elections.”
Photo “Mark Zuckerberg” by Mark Zuckerberg. Background Photo “Election Day 2020” by Phil Roeder. CC BY 2.0.