Ed. note, June 22, 2021: Updated to include new states’ legislation and the current status of all known bills related to banning private funding of elections. July 12: Updates to Louisiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. August 16: Added Ohio and Arkansas.
Private financing of government election offices under the guise of COVID-19 relief skewed voter turnout in the 2020 election and may have tipped the presidential election to Joe Biden.
The chief culprit was Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who poured $350 million into one sleepy nonprofit, the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL). CTCL then distributed grants to hundreds of county and city elections officials in 47 states and the District of Columbia.
Despite its claims that the grants were strictly for COVID-19 relief, not partisan advantage, the data show otherwise. CRC research into grants distributed in key states—Arizona and Nevada, Texas, Michigan and Wisconsin, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Georgia—has documented their partisan effects. We have also catalogued our major findings at InfluenceWatch.
Update: The flood of “Zuck Bucks” caught the attention of House Republicans, who sent CTCL a letter on June 21, 2021, demanding the group explain where its $350 million in COVID-19 “relief” funds went—since less than one percent of those funds were spent on personal protective equipment. They have also called on CTCL to publish its Form 990 for public review.
As detailed below, at least a dozen state legislatures have responded to these revelations with bills to protect free and fair elections by prohibiting or restricting private funding of government election offices.
HB 2569: Bans any state or public body that conducts or administers elections in Arizona from receiving or giving any private money for purposes related to the election, including registering voters. Passed April 9, 2021.
H 1866: Prohibits elections officials from accepting funding from any non-governmental source. Passed April 27, 2021.
SB 90: Prohibits state and local officials and certain agencies from accepting or using private funds for election-related expenses. Passed May 6, 2021.
SB 202: Prohibits election superintendents and boards of registrars in Georgia from accepting private funding. Passed March 2021.
SB 1168: Prohibits any county clerk, local elections office, or government body conducting an election from accepting or giving any grant, gift, or funding to or from a private entity. Passed April 26, 2021; comes into effect July 1, 2021.
SF 413: Shortens the early voting period, limits the time in which absentee ballots can be counted, and creates penalties for election-related misconduct among several other issues. SF 413 does not prohibit election officials from accepting private money or using that money for election-related expenses. Passed March 8, 2021.
HB 2332 & HB 2183: Limits ballot harvesting of more than 10 ballots, criminalizes intentional backdating or altering the postmark of mail-in ballots, enforces signature-matching requirements, and makes it a felony for election officials to accept or spend private funding for elections. Vetoed by governor on April 23, 2021; overridden by legislature on May 3. Passed.
HB 20: Prohibits any state or local official overseeing elections from accepting private donations. Vetoed by governor on June 7, 2021. Veto override by legislature is likely, scheduled for July 20.
SB 333: Bans private organizations from contributing funds or in-kind donations to state and local elections offices. Passed June 9, 2021.
SB 335: Prohibits elections officials from accepting private funding for elections. Died in Senate committee.
S 725: Prohibits the State Board of Elections, county boards of elections, and county commissioners from accepting private funding for election expenses. Under consideration by the House after passing the Senate.
HB 1256: Prohibits state and local officials for accepting or spending private contributions for elections. Passed April 16, 2021.
HB 110: Bars private funding of elections. Part of Ohio’s 2022-2023 appropriations bill. Passed June 30, 2021.
HB 1300: Does not prohibit private funding for elections. Instead, the bill will make it the duty of the Secretary of the Commonwealth to receive private funding and distribute it equally across the counties of Pennsylvania with the oversight of the Election Law Advisory Board. Vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on June 30, 2021.
HB 3877: Prohibits any state or election official from accepting private donations for the purpose of elections. Has not advanced out of committee since March 16, 2021; gained sponsors on June 21.
HB 0996: Prohibits state and local elections officials from accepting outside funding for elections. Passed May 5, 2021.
SB 7: Prohibits county officials accepting any donation larger than $1,000, unless it is approved by the secretary of state, governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the state House. Signed into law on June 18, 2021.
SB 565: Prohibits elections officials from accepting private donations for elections. Died in Senate committee after passing the House.
SB 207 & AB 173: Prohibits any election official from accepting private funding without permission from the state Elections Commission. If the Elections Commission gives permission, then the donation must be distributed to municipalities based on per capita data. The Joint Committee on Finance must oversee any dispersions of money. Vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers (D) on June 30, 2021.
SF 0142: Prohibits elections officials from accepting private funding for elections. Died in committee.
Victoria Ydens contributed to this article.