Mark Zuckerberg’s campaign finance donations fuel GOP suspicion, new election rules
The Republican legislatures granted him this wish.
At least eight GOP-controlled states have banned donations to election offices this year as Republicans try to block outside funding for voting operations. The legislation is often part of Republican packages that also set new limits on how voters can vote and place new demands on county or city election officials.
The response is fueled by right-wing anger and suspicion that Zuckerberg’s money benefited Democrats in 2020. Conservatives have long accused the tech mogul’s social media platform of censoring right-wing voices as part of its campaign against disinformation.
Zuckerberg’s money was distributed widely by a non-partisan foundation that had liberal roots. Conservative groups cite analyzes that the money has gone disproportionately to Democratic-leaning counties in key states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.
“People saw this and looked around, and they were increasingly concerned about why a billionaire would fund our elections through the backdoor,” said Jessica Anderson, executive director of the conservative group Heritage Action. , which pushed the bans in several states. .
But many election officials say the effort is shortsighted and fueled by paranoia. Election offices, they say, are chronically underfunded and can no longer benefit from donations that continue to flow to so many other branches of government, including the police, schools and libraries.
Additionally, they say there is no sign of favoritism in the distribution of grants from Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. Elections are more expensive in populated urban areas, and especially last year, when states rushed to postal voting to deal with the pandemic. Metro areas had to purchase expensive equipment to open and sort ballots, a task smaller, more GOP-oriented counties could do by hand or with less equipment.
In addition, Republican-leaning regions were already discouraged from accepting election subsidies because of Zuckerberg’s conservative suspicion. Last year, Louisiana’s Republican attorney general ordered his state’s election offices to deny grants from the nonprofit, the Center for Technology and Civic Life, who distributed $ 350 million of Zuckerberg’s money.
“Every electoral service that applied has received funding,” said CTCL executive director Tiana Epps-Johnson, adding that the distribution of the money “reflects those who chose to apply.”
A spokesperson for Zuckerberg declined to respond to the wave of new laws.
“When our country’s electoral infrastructure faced unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic, Mark and Priscilla stepped up efforts to close a funding gap and awarded $ 350 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life , a non-partisan organization, 501 (c) (3), “said Ben LaBolt.” Mark has made it clear that this is a unique effort to address the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic and his preference for the public financing of elections. ”
The center distributed grants to 2,500 election offices nationwide, from Alaska to Florida. The money was spent in a variety of ways – protective gear for election officials, public education campaigns promoting new methods of voting during the pandemic, and new trucks to transport voting materials.
In northern Arizona, the sprawling Coconino County used its $ 614,000 grant to hire more election workers, especially Navajo speakers who could do outreach on a reservation, and set up polling sites. driving for voters to cast the ballots, county recorder Patty Hansen said.
She said it was the first time she had enough money to expand her reach to the entire county, which is one of the largest in the country in terms of an area of 18,600 square miles, but which is sparsely populated.
“Due to legislation passed and signed by the governor, we will never be able to get such a subsidy again,” she said. “They are cutting off a source of funding to be able to meet these additional demands that they place on us.”
Election officials have long complained about being underfunded, but never more so than last year when they had to instantly revamp all of their operations at the height of the pandemic. There was a huge shift towards postal voting, as even in-person voting required new safeguards and a risk premium for poll workers.
Democrats asked for an additional $ 2 billion for election offices in the original coronavirus aid bill in April, but only got $ 400 million. After a spring and summer of troubled primaries and a partisan deadlock over additional funding, Zuckerberg stepped in. He and Chan donated a total of $ 400 million to election offices – $ 350 million in local office grants that were distributed through CTCL.
CTCL’s selection raised some conservatives’ eyebrows because of the group’s roots. Some of its founders, including Epps-Johnson, were once at the New Organizing Institute, which provided data and training for liberal activists. Still, CTCL has become respected among election officials and includes Republican, Pam Anderson, a former elected clerk from a Denver suburb. -County of the region, to its board of directors. In an interview, she said the group was “100% non-partisan”.
Other Republican election officials have also vouched for the program’s impartiality. “I don’t see why governments should be stopped from trying to work with the private sector to get grants,” said Brian Mead, Republican electoral director for Licking County, Ohio, outside of Columbus, who has received $ 77,000 from CTCL. “If we can work with the private sector and get money where we save our taxpayer’s money, I think that’s a good thing,” Mead said.
That did not appease the Tories, especially after the initial grants were given to large Democratic-voting cities. In Pennsylvania, one of the main presidential election battlegrounds, Philadelphia, with an annual election budget of $ 12.3 million, received $ 10 million from CTCL. The conservative Foundation for Government Accountability found that in Pennsylvania, Democratic-voting counties received an average of $ 4.99 per voter, while those with Republican voting received $ 1.12 per voter.
In Florida, the differential was also dramatic, with a third of the $ 18 million in total money going to Democrat-leaning Palm Beach County, and an additional $ 2.4 million to Miami-Dade County, which has supported Democrat Joe Biden, although more closely than expected. Republican Donald Trump won the state.
“If Charles Koch did that, well, for a lot of these people the shoe would be on the other foot,” said Hayden Dublois, a researcher at the Foundation for Government Accountability, referring to the billionaire conservative.
In some states, including Georgia and Texas, new laws require that all donations to local election offices be distributed by the secretary of state. In states like Arizona, Kansas, and Iowa, they’re totally banned.
Anderson, the Republican member of the CTCL board, said it would do real damage.
“If you want to block this funding, then I want to ask if lawmakers fund elections? Anderson said. “Because so many states don’t. “