Zuckerbucks Shouldn’t Pay for Elections


The 2020 pandemic election wasn’t stolen, but it sure was a superspreader of bad precedents. More than a year later, we’re still getting information about the huge private money that underwrote official government voting efforts in 49 states. Much is still unknown, but lawmakers already know enough to ban this practice.

A nonprofit called the Center for Technology and Civic Life, or CTCL, funded by

Mark Zuckerberg,

says it gave $350 million to nearly 2,500 election departments in the course of the 2020 campaign. Last month it posted its 990 tax form for the period, with 199 pages listing grants to support the “safe administration” of voting amid Covid-19. Some conservatives see this largess of “Zuckerbucks” as a clever plot to help Democrats win.

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CTCL “consistently gave bigger grants and more money per capita to counties that voted for

Biden,

” says an analysis by the Capital Research Center. Its tally for Georgia, to pick one state, shows average grants of $1.41 per head in

Trump

areas and $5.33 in Biden ones. A conservative group in Wisconsin suggests that extra voter outreach funded by CTCL could have boosted Mr. Biden’s turnout there by something like 8,000 votes. It isn’t hard to see why they’re concerned.

On the other hand, CTCL’s biggest check was $19,294,627 to New York City, and in a scheme to flip America blue, that would be a waste of eight figures. Ditto for sizable checks to red areas. DeSoto County, Miss., population 185,000, went 61% for President Trump, and it received $347,752. The county installed plastic shields, bought more voting machines to prevent lines, and hired workers to sanitize equipment. “This money was a huge help,” a spokeswoman says, since “none of these items were budgeted.”

Another caveat is that it’s hard to untangle partisan bias from urban bias. Big cities have big-city voting problems, and maybe they were more likely to ask CTCL for help. Only two places in Nevada received grants, the Capital Research Center says:

Clark

County (Las Vegas) and Washoe County (Reno). No other county in the state has 60,000 people, and probably the rugged desert dwellers didn’t need the aid.

There are good questions about how CTCL spent money, and if Republicans take the House this year, maybe they’ll ask. Yet even under the purest motives, private election funding is inappropriate and sows distrust. This is evident in Green Bay, Wis., which received $1,245,706, plus nonfinancial help from CTCL partners.

One was

Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein,

a fellow with the National Vote at Home Institute, who became awfully cozy in Green Bay. In one email he offered assistance with follow-up on rejected mail votes, saying “curing ballots might be something we could take off your plate.” The city clerk,

Kris Teske,

rightly declined.

Other emails show him helping to plan the layout and staffing of the ballot-counting center. On Election Day he was inside that room, at one point with a tag marked “City Employee.”

Ms. Teske seems to have unsuccessfully opposed this outside influence. Two weeks before the voting, she went on leave. Then she resigned, citing clashes with the mayor’s office. “He allowed staff who were not educated on election law to run the election, along with people who weren’t even City of Green Bay employees,” Ms. Teske wrote. She felt cut out, “even though it’s the Clerk’s job to administer an election.”

In a rebuttal to what she called “extensive misinformation,” Green Bay City Attorney

Vanessa Chavez

said that Mr. Spitzer-Rubenstein “had no decision-making authority” and “never assisted with any matters involving actual ballots.” She said the city was “not required” by CTCL to accept such help.

Yet among the “advisory services” that CTCL made available to Green Bay, one consultant was from the Brennan Center, a highly ideological outfit that supports Democratic legal and election causes. What if conservatives underwrote “voter outreach” by town clerks, while sending in experts from the Heritage Foundation?

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This isn’t how elections should be run, especially in the current era of partisan mistrust. Some states, including Georgia, Arizona and Florida, have already moved to prohibit donations to election offices. But Democratic governors in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina have blocked bans or restrictions.

In a veto message last month,

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper

said that private funds “were needed” in 2020 to pay for masks and so on. He told lawmakers to “start properly funding elections boards,” which “would end the need for grants.” Maybe the Legislature should call Mr. Cooper’s bluff and sweeten its bill with some added money. It’s worth the trade for eliminating a source of election mistrust.

Journal Editorial Report: What’s Plan B for a faltering legislative program? Images: Bloomberg/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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