Jan. 2022 Update: This report was written with the best information available in 2021 but is now out-of-date. For updated analysis using CTCL’s latest disclosures, see Texas in “Shining a Light on Zuck Bucks“
Ed. note, June 16, 2021: Updated data to include an additional grant for Tarrant County; credit Richard McMenomy. Figures have been adjusted accordingly.
By now it’s a familiar story to many Americans that private money was just one of many irregularities that plagued the 2020 election. In numerous reports, the Capital Research Center has traced the flow of $350 million from Facebook founder and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg to county elections officials, flooding local jurisdictions with “Zuck bucks,” which aided with things like fraud-prone drop boxes and mail-in ballots.
At the heart of that story is the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), a sleepy Chicago nonprofit that barged into the 2020 election after Zuckerberg’s infusion grew its revenues by nearly 25,000 percent, turning this tiny advocacy group into a left-wing giant almost overnight.
CTCL has claimed that the $350 million it funneled to elections officials was for nonpartisan COVID-19 relief efforts. But is that really true? We’ve done the math and tracked tens of millions of dollars from CTCL to Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Nevada—all battlegrounds key to clinching the 2020 election.
Our conclusion is that, across the board, CTCL’s grants favored the biggest, most vote-rich Democratic counties, which helped turn out the most left-leaning voters in U.S. history—and secure Joe Biden as the country’s 46th president. Far from “nonpartisan,” CTCL’s oceans of money made it easier for fraudsters to cheat and the Democrats to win in 2020.
Now we turn to Texas and the $33.5 million in CTCL grants uncovered so far—the largest amount for any state we’ve examined.
While CTCL has released a preliminary list of grant recipients, its documents don’t include the grant amounts. What CRC has managed to track comes from local news reports and the websites of county elections officials. (See our data set in the Appendix.)
For more on CTCL, see the profile on InfluenceWatch and related CRC reports.
The Ultimate Prize
Historically, Democrats have flagged far behind Republican presidential nominees in Texas, by an average of 1.2 million votes between 2000 and 2016, when Republicans won the state with an average of 57 percent of the vote. Jimmy Carter, the last Democrat presidential candidate to win Texas, edged out incumbent Gerald Ford by just 129,000 votes in 1976. Prior to that, Texas voted reliably Democratic, flipping to the Republican candidate only three times—for Herbert Hoover in 1928 and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956—between Ulysses Grant’s victory in 1872 and Richard Nixon’s in 1972.
In 2016, Trump improved modestly on 2012 nominee Mitt Romney’s turnout, gaining almost 126,000 votes—far behind the 573,000 votes Hillary Clinton gained over Obama’s 2012 turnout, but still enough to win Texas by 814,000 votes.
|Table 1. Presidential Votes in Texas|
|Year||Republican||Increase (GOP)||% Inc.||Democrat||Increase (Dem)||% Inc.|
|Source: Politico, New York Times, and Texas Secretary of State.|
For decades, Democratic campaign strategists have dreamed of flipping the Lone Star state and turning this Republican stronghold into a Democratic conquest. They came closer than ever to that dream in 2020, when Joe Biden received more votes in Texas than any Democrat or Republican in American history—except Donald Trump.
Biden’s gains in Texas are shocking. Compared to 2016 figures, he won an additional 1.4 million votes for a total of 5.3 million, a 36 percent increase over Hillary Clinton’s 2016 turnout and 50 percent more than Barack Obama’s record-high turnout in 2008. Trump’s gains are just as impressive, given that he improved his vote totals over his 2016 figures by 1.2 million for a total of almost 5.9 million votes, a 26 percent increase that shatters past Republicans’ records.
The location of those votes paints an interesting picture, especially given where CTCL’s grants went.
A Flood of “Zuck Bucks” into Texas
Texas was among the most-targeted states for CTCL grants in 2020, receiving at least 118 grants across its 254 counties, perhaps the highest of any state. (Some states, like Michigan and Massachusetts, received more grants but they were largely to individual towns and cities, not counties.) Because CTCL has so far declined to reveal its list of grants, the true figure is unknown and likely to remain that way until CTCL release its IRS Form 990 filing for 2020—as required by law sometime in 2022.
To date, we’ve uncovered 22 of those 118 grants totaling $35,218,473, including one grant of $251,000 from Arnold Schwarzenegger through the University of Southern California’s Schwarzenegger Institute.
- CTCL funded eight of the 10 most populous counties in Texas. The two that did not receive “Zuck Bucks”—Collin and Denton Counties—were the only two of the 10 that Trump won.
- Joe Biden won 22 of Texas’s 254 counties. CTCL funded 17 of them (77 percent). Trump, however, won 231 counties, 101 of which received CTCL grants (44 percent), which sounds impressive.
- Yet those 101 counties gave Trump just 1,445,871 votes, less than a quarter of his statewide total. Biden’s 17 CTCL-funded counties delivered him 3,641,476 votes—69 percent of his statewide total.
- In 2020, Biden flipped just three counties that Trump won in 2016, all of which received CTCL grants: Tarrant ($1,678,523; Fort Worth), Williamson ($264,000; near Austin), and Hays ($283,000; just outside Austin), which together contain about 1.6 million people and gave 615,000 votes to Biden and 597,000 votes to Trump.
- Trump flipped eight (mostly small) counties that Clinton won in 2016, all of them in the traditionally Democratic bastions in the south and west: Zapata, Val Verde, Reeves, La Salle, Kleberg, Kenedy, Jim Wells, and Frio Counties, which together contain just under 200,000 people. They gave 30,000 votes to Trump and 19,000 votes to Biden. Yet only one, Zapata County, received a CTCL grant of an unknown amount (as of writing).
- Statewide, Trump averaged a 25 percent increase over 2016 totals in both CTCL-funded and unfunded counties. Biden averaged just 18 percent growth statewide, but 40 percent growth in the state’s 10 largest counties (compared to 35 percent for Trump).
Despite CTCL’s claim that its grants were distributed on a nonpartisan basis, CTCL grants to counties Trump won averaged $0.55 per capita and $2.95 per capita in counties Biden won.
Texas 2016 & Texas 2020
What’s clear is that Biden won more votes in fewer places than did his Democratic predecessors in past elections, while Trump expanded his base to include places he lost in his first presidential bid. CTCL funds, meanwhile, targeted just the spots that Biden needed to improve upon if he was to win Texas:
- Turnout for both candidates surged in CTCL-funded counties more than unfunded counties, but more so for Biden: Trump received 25 percent more votes in funded counties versus 24 percent in unfunded counties—essentially the same. Meanwhile, Biden received 21 percent more votes in funded counties versus 14 percent in unfunded counties—a 7 percentage point spread.
- Biden’s biggest gains (exceeding 100,000 votes compared to 2016) were in a handful of big cities: Harris County (212,000 votes), Dallas County (144,000 votes), Travis County (130,000 votes), Bexar County (129,000 votes), and Tarrant County (124,000). These five cities—Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Fort Worth, respectively—netted him 2.8 million votes, or more than half of his 5.3 million votes statewide. (Trump, in comparison, got less than 2.1 million votes there, accounting for 35 percent of his total votes.)
- These five counties accepted grants from CTCL totaling $27,775,142, or 83 percent of all grants we’ve traced to Texas. Even that figure’s misleading, though. Just two cities received almost $25 million from CTCL: $9.6 million to Houston (Harris County) and a stunning $15 million to Dallas, the largest known single CTCL grant in the country.
- To put those figures in perspective, Houston’s $9.6 million grant was enough for $2.04 for every man, woman, and child living in Harris County, or enough to buy every Biden vote there for a whopping $10.46. Dallas received the equivalent of $5.74 per person living in the county, or $25.27 per Biden vote!
- Trump gained votes over his 2016 totals in every county, save for Polk (population 51,000), where he lost 8,000 votes yet still won it by a landslide, as he did in 2016. Biden, on the other hand, lost roughly 9,000 votes across 50 counties.
Naturally, one would expect CTCL’s COVID-19 relief grants to flow to the most populous spots, which tend to vote Democratic. But if CTCL’s goal was partisan and intended to help Biden’s turnout, would it have spent its funds any differently? The facts leave this writer skeptical.
It’s unclear exactly how these funds were spent. But grants paid out in other states, such as a $10 million grant to Philadelphia—which nearly doubled its elections budget—required the city use the funds for printing and postage for mail-in ballots. It also required Philadelphia to scatter “Secure Dropboxes” around the city to collect ballots, circumventing basic voting integrity requirements by allowing anyone—without any identification—to drop any number of ballots into a private collection bin with no official oversight and no accountability after the fact. If a fraudster wanted to flood Philadelphia with phony ballots, CTCL’s “Zuck bucks” enabled him to bypass U.S. Postal Service mailboxes. It’s unclear if drop boxes were placed in any of Texas’s major cities.
What’s Next for Preserving Election Integrity?
A number of states—Louisiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Texas—are already considering bills that would, among other things, require I.D. to request absentee ballots, restrict early mail-in voting and expand early in-person voting, eliminate same-day voter registration, and ban out-of-state funding of elections.
Not everyone is taking the flood of “Zuck bucks” lightly, but don’t expect the left-leaning media to get serious about this billionaire’s attempt to privatize the 2020 election anytime soon.
Data set for all 118 CTCL-funded counties in Texas (updated June 2021)
Data set for CTCL-funded counties plus remaining Texas counties (updated June 2021)
This article originally appeared in the American Conservative on April 5, 2021.