‘Zuck Bucks 2.0’: Liberal Group Uses Legal ‘Magic Trick’ To Fund Election Offices, Even In Red States, Watchdogs Say
- A nonprofit organization that poured money from Mark Zuckerberg into election offices during the 2020 presidential election is now offering “nonpartisan” assistance for election offices.
- The group, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), alongside various other “left-wing” nonprofits and companies, formed an $80 million initiative called the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, which targets election offices with grants, trainings, resources and consulting services, even in states that block public funding for election offices.
- The Alliance claims to be nonpartisan, but a review of documents by the Honest Elections Project and the John Locke Foundation show that the group is designed to “systematically influence” aspects of the election administration and push progressive voting policies.
A nonprofit organization that poured money from Mark Zuckerberg into election offices during the 2020 presidential election recently created a collaborative initiative that offers “nonpartisan” assistance for election offices; however, the initiative’s partners and funding are tied to various left-leaning nonprofits, and the group’s “unusual and complex structure” allows for loopholes to be found in laws that block public funding, election integrity watchdogs told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The group, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), alongside various other “left-wing” nonprofits and companies, formed an $80 million initiative called the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, which claims to assist election offices with grants, trainings, resources and consulting services, according to a report by the Honest Elections Project, a nonprofit focused on election integrity. The Alliance, whose member offices are called “Centers for Election Excellence,” claims to be nonpartisan, but a review of documents by the Honest Elections Project and the John Locke Foundation shows that the group is designed to “systematically influence” aspects of the election administration and push “progressive” voting policies by working around laws that block public funding for election offices.
“[The Alliance] allows CTCL and its partners to get into election offices, instead of parachuting in the way they did in 2020. They want to go to stay, they want to learn everything about how these offices function, they want to push, you know, what they term best practices, guidance, resources, trainings, technology, software, to reshape the way that they function,” Honest Elections Project Executive Director and report co-author Jason Snead told the DCNF. “All of it is designed to basically give them behind-the-scenes access at a granular level, so that they can nudge, push, whatever, to get these offices to behave in ways which are more in line with their left-wing agenda.”
CTCL is an Illinois-based election reform advocacy group that pushes “left-of-center” voting policies and election administration, according to Capitol Research Center’s (CRC) Influence Watch. The group has been funded by a wide array of organizations over the years, including the Skoll Foundation, the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
The group was founded by co-workers from the now defunct New Organizing Institute (NOI), which has been described by The Washington Post as the “the Democratic Party’s Hogwarts for digital wizardry,” and was a training center for “left-of-center” activists while it existed, according to Influence Watch.
Alongside CTCL, the Alliance is composed of partners that include the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, an Arabella Advisors front group which lobbies for automatic voter registration, and the Center for Civic Design, which uses funding from liberal eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar to advocate for ballot redesign and permanent vote-by-mail, according to CRC.
Arabella Advisors is a nonprofit network that hosts a number of nonprofit groups that channel “hundreds of millions of dollars” from left-leaning foundations to left-wing organizations, according to Influence Watch. The group creates hundreds of “pop-up groups” designed to look like standalone projects, despite being Arabella-run.
The Alliance’s newest partner, the Institute for Responsive Government, works with government agencies to modernize election administration, specifically focusing on government-driven voter registration policies, according to CRC. The Institute for Responsive Government is housed by the New Venture Fund, which is a nonprofit run by Arabella Advisors.
“This is a coalition of left wing organizations, all of which have had deep ties through their senior staff, founders, etc, to the Democratic Party, to partisan campaigns on the left, and of course, to major left wing, dark money funders as well,” Snead told the DCNF.
CTCL’s Alliance, dubbed “Zuck Bucks 2.0” by the Honest Elections Project, builds on the “Zuck Bucks” initiative, which used private funding to impact election policy nationwide in 2020, according to the Honest Elections Project. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan reportedly donated a total of $350 million to CTCL in 2020 to be dispensed as COVID-19 “relief grants” to election offices, leading a group of House Republicans to call on CTCL to explain where the hundreds of millions of dollars they were given during the COVID-19 pandemic went.
Following the “Zuck Bucks” initiative, many states implemented legislation that blocked private donations to election offices, but the CTCL’s Alliance is allegedly moving around oversight by implementing a “membership” program with a “unusual and complex structure,” according to the Honest Elections Project.
“The second main thing that the alliance is set up to do is allow CTCL to spread even in states that ban private funding of elections. And we suspected that from the jump, which is why we put so much time into trying to understand what the Alliance looks like, what its structure was, so we can understand what their strategy is.” Snead said.
Through public records requests, the Honest Elections Project received email communications between Alliance partners and local election offices selected to join the Alliance. The records, also reviewed by the John Locke Foundation, helped the Honest Elections Project look into the function of the Alliance, which showed the group’s alleged “behind-the-scenes influence” into election administration.
The Alliance started as a free group, but later added a membership fee and introduced “scholarships” to cover costs, which are now instantly converted into “credits,” according to the Honest Elections Project. The “credits” must then be used to buy services from Alliance-sponsored partners.
The “scholarship” to cover the membership cost can be used in states with weaker restrictions on public funding to provide funding for election offices without directly giving the office money, according to the Honest Elections Project. The Alliance’s choice to offer scholarships to election offices is a “two fold” decision, Snead told the DCNF.
The scholarships make it free for jurisdictions to join if they are allowed to accept funds, and also provides a loophole for states with less strict public funding laws. “It’s almost like they’re doing a magic trick pretending that we say it costs $4,800 to join, but if we never bill you, and you’d never pay us, there’s no transaction, we just convert those fees into credits behind the scenes,” Snead told the DCNF.
“I think it was very clearly designed to allow the influence of the Alliance to move into states where you cannot accept even the scholarship because of tightly worded private funding restrictions,” Snead said.
The membership process seems to be a “two way street,” according to one election official in email records obtained by the Honest Elections Project. Election offices receive guidance, resources, trainings, technology and software to reshape the way that they function, and the Alliance receives information on how the member offices operate, as well as the ability to guide election offices through the use of its partner services.
“I get something and give something,” one election official said about the agreement in documents obtained by the Honest Elections Project.
The Honest Elections Project is still investigating how states with public funding bans are able to join the Alliance, and has submitted public record requests to further understand the onboarding process, according to Snead.
“I fully expect that we will see other jurisdictions in states that have private funding bans targeted over the next days and weeks,” Snead said.
Once election offices are locked in with the Alliance and the “credits” have been awarded, election offices work with the left-wing partners of the Alliance, according to the Honest Elections Project.
“Instead of spending taxpayer dollars on any potential competitor to provide, for instance, a software solution to manage the recruitment and distribution of poll workers, they spent this money, now the money has to then effectively be spent on services that are provided by these CTCL approved collaborators,” Snead said.
Congratulations to the 2023 inaugural cohort of Centers for Election Excellence!
🌟Contra Costa County, CA
🌟Shasta County, CA
🌟Kane County, IL
🌟Macoupin County, IL
🌟Ottawa County, MI
🌟Clark County, NV
🌟Brunswick County, NC
🌟Forsyth County, NC
🌟Madison, WI pic.twitter.com/FdSJQpYzIz
— Center for Tech and Civic Life (@HelloCTCL) November 23, 2022
The Alliance initially recruited “Centers for Election Excellence” in states that did not block the use of private funding in election offices, but later expanded to states that block public funding, including Utah and Georgia, according to the Honest Elections Project. Instead of sending funding directly to the election offices in Georgia, the Alliance sends funding to the respective county’s finance department, which later dispenses the funding to the election offices, CRC Senior Researcher Hayden Ludwig and Snead told the DCNF.
“Georgia private funding restrictions are not the tightest and so they have essentially identified a loophole where the funding goes to the county and then the county appropriates it to the elections office,” Snead told the DCNF. The Dekalb County, Georgia, finance department did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
The Honest Elections Project is currently investigating how counties in Utah were able to join the Alliance.
“Utah has fairly tight private funding restrictions. Again, the question is, did they get a membership fee to join the Alliance? Or did they take advantage of this scholarship program and pretend that that is somehow a satisfactory workaround?” Snead told the DCNF.
The Alliance is marketed as a seal of approval for election offices that excel at election administration, but after election offices were admitted, they were told that they would also be receiving massive grants, Snead told the DCNF.
Many election officials were surprised by the large sums of money offered, leading election officials in Ottawa, Michigan, and Brunswick and Forsyth, North Carolina, to announce that they will not be taking any funding from the Alliance. Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck believes that some of the group’s initiatives are exciting, “but $1.5 million just seemed excessive,” he told the Holland Sentinel.
“We didn’t ask for that. Honestly, we were very surprised and we want people in it for the right reasons,” Roebuck continued.
Half of the original group of participating election offices are now facing some degree of pushback or expressing some reservations about joining the program, Snead told the DCNF.
Governors in Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin vetoed legislation banning private funding in 2021, and Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina have election offices that are participating in the Alliance. The respective offices did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.
If voters are going to have faith that CTCL is operating in a nonpartisan manner, “the process for awarding the money should be more transparent,” Ludwig told RealClearInvestigations.
If the CTCL Alliance is truly committed to helping election offices, “they would be advocating through democratic channels to expand budgets, going into state legislatures to support infrastructure. But they don’t and they have millions of dollars at their disposal,” he continued.
CTCL, the Center for Secure and Modern Elections and the Center for Civic Design did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
The Institute for Responsive Government could not be reached for comment.
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