Organization Trends

New IRS Complaint Alleges “Zuck Bucks” Groups’ Illegal Partisanship in 2020 Election


A newly filed complaint with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) alleges that three tax-exempt organizations—the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), and National Vote at Home Institute—unlawfully intervened in the 2020 election in order to aid Democrats.

Under IRS rules, 501(c)(3) nonprofits that engage in partisan election intervention are subject to loss of their tax exemption.

A second IRS complaint alleges that billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, made unlawful personal income tax deductions on the roughly $400 million they gifted to CTCL and CEIR in 2020—funds which were routed through the left-leaning intermediary Silicon Valley Community Foundation—since those organizations were engaged in illegal campaign activities.

Both complaints were filed on September 22 by the Center for Renewing America, a right-leaning watchdog created by former Trump administration official Russell Vought to fight the influence of Big Tech on U.S. elections, the Left’s censorship of conservatives, and critical race theory.

Meddling in Elections

In the lead-up to the 2020 election, Zuckerberg donated approximately $350 million to CTCL and another $70 million to CEIR for COVID-19 “relief grants” intended to help Americans vote, both in-person and by mail.

In reality, these “Zuck bucks” promoted insecure drop boxes to collect the unprecedented flood of mail-in ballots created by last-minute election law changes—mostly engineered by Democratic elections officials—in key states across the country, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Very little of the money went to personal protective equipment.

Wisconsin, in fact, was ground zero for the first influx of Zuck bucks to the state’s five cities, which in summer 2020 produced a joint Safe Voting Plan that hinged upon early voting and vote by mail with funds from a private organization, CTCL. Zuck bucks even paid for a mobile voting van—a “polling booth on wheels”—in Racine.

On a per-capita basis, CTCL’s Zuck bucks overwhelmingly favored Democratic vote–rich cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit over counties that broke for Donald Trump. In Pennsylvania, CTCL grants in Trump counties averaged $0.60 per capita compared with $2.85 in counties Joe Biden won. In Georgia, it was worse: $1.41 per capita in Trump counties versus $5.33 in Biden counties.

This pattern held in each state Capital Research Center examined throughout 2021.

Similarly, CEIR distributed its grants to secretaries of state to promote mail-in balloting and drop boxes. Although the details of its grants program are scarce, we exposed CEIR’s hand in bankrolling Maryland’s partisan 2020 turnout operation, when the state launched a taxpayer-funded registration effort in Baltimore and the Democratic counties ringing Washington, DC.

At the time, no laws strictly prohibited elections offices from accepting grants from private organizations and individuals. Since then, 24 states and 12 counties—most of them in Wisconsin—have banned or restricted Zuck bucks in all future elections with more jurisdictions likely to follow.

Yet the Center for Renewing America’s complaints allege that the CTCL and CEIR “relief grants” programs were nevertheless illegal because they do fall outside the IRS’s definition of “charitable activities” (recall that 501(c)(3) groups are officially termed “public charities”) and so partisan donations are off limits.

The center writes:

[T]he pattern of Zuckerbucks spending and how these organizations targeted, penetrated into, and harvested data out of local election offices clearly operated as a de facto get-out-the-vote effort for the Democrat party. As such, under [existing law] . . . these organizations cannot qualify for a tax exemption.

. . .

Even if CTCL, [National Vote at Home Institute], and CEIR each operated for some charitable purpose, none of them operated exclusively for such a purpose.

Of Zuckerberg and Chan personally, the center adds:

The very genesis of the Zuckerbucks program also shows that it violates Section 501(c)(3) because it was designed to benefit the personal financial interests of Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan by avoiding any adverse financial consequences of staying out of the 2020 election.

Specifically . . . the Zuckerbucks program was conceived to offset the supposed damage the couple did to American politics in 2016 by passively allowing Facebook to be used to elect a Republican President.

Vote by Mail Now, Tomorrow, and Forever

The Capital Research Center has extensively documented the activities of the National Vote at Home Institute and its 501(c)(4) “sister,” National Vote at Home Coalition, during and through the 2020 election.

Although small by activist standards, Vote at Home rocketed to prominence in early 2020 under the leadership of partisan operative Amber McReynolds when it became clear that COVID-19 provided a unique opportunity to effectively transform America’s election into a mail-in fiasco.

Unsurprisingly, the group was spawned with funding from the U.S. Postal Service union, which stands to gain from any effort to turn the nation’s mail-delivery service into the Democrats’ premier ballot-delivery machine.

And that’s precisely what McReynolds and her allies have aimed to do since President Biden appointed her to the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors last year. A separate coalition of pressure groups led by Demos, the think tank of the radical Left, successfully lobbied the Biden administration to instruct federal agencies to explore registering new voters when they use public services—think receiving a vote-by-mail application when applying for a student loan, registering for Obamacare, or obtaining U.S. citizenship.

The same batch of activists also aims to unseat Postal Service head Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee whom Democrats blame for slow ballot delivery service in the 2020 election, and replace him with a pro-vote-by-mail pawn.

But firing DeJoy requires a majority on the Board of Governors, which is capped by law at five members of either political party. No wonder Biden appointed McReynolds as an “independent”—freeing up a potential spot for another Democrat and giving vote-by-mail fundamentalists a secret, illegal majority on the oversight board.

Much of Vote at Home’s inner workings remain hidden, which is why the Center for Renewing America also asks the IRS to investigate its potential ties to CTCL and CEIR and possible funding from Zuckerberg.

As always, if truth wins, we can expect more details to emerge from the shadows. They won’t be pretty.

Hayden Ludwig

Hayden Ludwig is a Senior Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. He is also a columnist at the Washington Free Beacon and writes regularly for the American Conservative. Ludwig is…
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