- The Washington Times
Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced he won’t be donating money to help state and local officials administer the 2022 elections or any other election after criticism that the nearly $400 million he injected into the 2020 presidential contest unfairly bolstered Democratic turnout.

A spokesperson for Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, confirmed to The Washington Times that the couple will not provide funding that would be distributed to help operate election offices this year or any other year. 

“They are not donating for something like this, ever again,” said Brian Baker, a spokesman for Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Chan

Republican lawmakers, conservative-leaning news outlets and watchdog groups say Mr. Zuckerberg’s massive donation in 2020 was used disproportionally to bring out Democratic voters, particularly in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Michigan.

The Caesar Rodney Institute for American Election Research found that only two of the most lucrative 50 grants went to Republican-leaning jurisdictions.

“They were virtually all given to very heavily blue municipalities,” Bill Doyle, an economist and principal researcher at the institute, told The Times.

The Zuckerberg-Chan donation arrived on Sept. 1, 2020, but the Center for Technology and Civic Life distributed nearly $25 million over several previous months to important swing districts. The source of that funding remains anonymous. It did not come from the Zuckerbergs, Mr. Baker said. 

Mr. Zuckerberg made the announcement after the group that administered the donations said it was moving on to a new initiative and would no longer be focused on funding election infrastructure in states and localities.

The Center for Technology and Civic Life, which received $328 million from Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Chan in 2020, is starting a different program aimed at creating a network for the nation’s thousands of local election officials, CTCL Executive Director Tiana Epps-Johnson announced at the TED2022 conference, according to The Associated Press.

The venture, Mrs. Epps-Johnson announced on Twitter, is called the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence. It will operate with a budget of $80 million over five years to create a network for the nation’s thousands of local election officials, who can apply for aid to improve their technology and processes. It is nonpartisan, and any election office can apply.

“Unfortunately, years of underinvestment means many local election departments often have limited capacity and training,” Ms. Epps-Johnson said at the conference. “The U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence is bringing together world-class partners so that local election officials no longer have to go it alone.”

The CTCL operated as a small nonprofit until 2020, when it was suddenly infused with $350 million in donations. Of that funding, $328 million came from Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Chan, who cited “the unprecedented challenges COVID-19 will have on voting across this country” as the reason for their gift. 

“Many counties and states are strapped financially and working to determine how to staff and fund operations that will allow for ballots to be cast and counted in a timely way,” the couple said in a Sept. 1, 2020, statement announcing the first of two donations they provided to CTCL.

The CTCL operates as a tax-exempt and nonpartisan organization. Still, it is staffed by former Democratic operatives who distributed the money with the help of other nonprofits in the form of grants to election offices throughout the nation. 

Any city or county that applied was eligible for funding, but blue-leaning areas appeared to win most of the money. Those jurisdictions used significant amounts of funding for get-out-the-vote efforts and to encourage mail-in and early voting. Little was spent on COVID-19 safety measures. 

The Capital Research Center, a conservative-leaning watchdog group that is analyzing private election spending in 2020, examined the $45 million in private grant money CTCL provided to Georgia and found that 94% of the money was funneled to 17 election offices in counties won by Joseph R. Biden. 

Mr. Biden ultimately won the traditionally red state by fewer than 12,000 votes. 

The CTCL election grants have generated a significant backlash in swing and Republican-led states. Several states have enacted laws curbing or banning private funding of elections.

Mississippi joined the list last week. 

Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill banning state and local election officials in his state from accepting private money for administering elections.

“Mississippi’s elections will not be controlled by 20- and 30-somethings in Silicon Valley cubicles trying to push their woke ideology,” Mr. Reeves said in a statement. “That’s why I signed this law — to stop Big Tech from using their cash to influence our elections.”

Mr. Baker said Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Chan publicly disclosed their donation and played no role in deciding where any of the money was spent.

Still, the election money, including the funds distributed before Sept. 1, was nicknamed “Zuckerbucks” and “Zuck Bucks” by critics. 

Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Chan donated an additional $69.5 million in the run-up to the 2020 elections to the Center for Election Innovation and Research, another nonprofit organization that distributed funds, mostly to state election officials.

Like the CTCL, the CEIR is run by a former Democratic operative. The founder and executive director, David Becker, is a former Justice Department lawyer who later sued red states to block voter identification laws and partisan gerrymandering on behalf of the left-leaning People for the American Way. 

In total, the CTCL and the CEIR provided roughly $420 million in private grants to help states and local jurisdictions administer the 2020 elections. By comparison, the federal government allocated $400 million in 2020 in election funds. 

Former President Donald Trump, who claims the 2020 contest was rigged in favor of Mr. Biden, said he opposes private funding of elections.

“It shouldn’t be allowed,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Breitbart. 

Mr. Trump hosted David Bossie, the president of the conservative advocacy group Citizens United, at his Mar-a-Lago estate to view Mr. Bossie’s new film about the massive injection of private funding in the 2020 elections. 

Mr. Zuckerberg’s representatives have pointed out that every county that sought funding received some money and that pro-Trump counties receiving funding outnumbered pro-Biden counties that were awarded grants. 

Amid the private funding backlash, Mr. Biden’s 2023 budget proposal seeks $10 billion in federal funding for elections over the next decade. The federal government has provided about $1 billion in aid for administering elections since 2018, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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