Editor’s Note: January 28, 2022: The Virginia Senate unanimously passed SB 80 (39-0).
On Tuesday, the Virginia State Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections voted unanimously to advance a ban on private funding of government elections offices following testimony by Capital Research Center president Scott Walter. The bill (SB 80), which passed with six Republican and nine Democratic votes, makes Virginia the most recent state to consider prohibiting “Zuck bucks” in future elections. At least 11 other states have already passed similar bans.
In 2020, billionaire Mark Zuckerberg donated over $328 million to the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), which was repackaged as grants to thousands of county elections offices as COVID-19 “relief funds.” CTCL boldly claims that its private funds made 2020 “the most secure election in U.S. history.” In reality, Zuck bucks quite likely tipped the balance in enough battleground states to put Joe Biden in the White House.
Over the past 14 months we’ve traced CTCL’s rivers of cash to battleground states such as Georgia ($45 million), Texas ($39 million), and Pennsylvania ($25 million). Across the board CTCL grants favored big, Democratic cities on a per capita basis. In Georgia, for example, Zuck Bucks averaged $1.41 per head in Trump counties and a whopping $5.33 in Biden counties.
A quarter of Virginia’s population lives in the counties bordering Washington, DC, so one would expect to fund the majority of the $3.7 million CTCL granted to the Old Dominion flowing there. But broken down per capita, counties that Trump won received just $0.66 per person from CTCL, whereas Biden counties received $1.11.
CRC’s cutting-edge reporting was central to the Wall Street Journal’s January 18 editorial “Zuckerbucks Shouldn’t Pay for Elections.” “This isn’t how elections should be run,” the WSJ Editorial Board concluded, “especially in the current era of partisan mistrust.” We couldn’t agree more.
Scott Walter’s Testimony
Scott Walter was invited to testify before the committee by SB 80’s sponsor, Sen. William Stanley (R). Walter has testified on the role of Zuck Bucks in the 2020 election before the Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Georgia state legislatures.
His complete written remarks are below and in a PDF.
Watch the Virginia Senate committee hearing here [forthcoming].
For answers to several questions about CTCL and its grants raised during yesterday’s hearing of the Virginia Senate, see here.
Written Testimony before the
Committee on Privileges and Elections
Chaired by R. Creigh Deeds
Capital Research Center
January 25, 2022
Should Virginia’s Elections Be Privatized?
Chairman Deeds, Senator Stanley, distinguished Members of the Committee: Thank you for allowing me to testify. I’m Scott Walter, a resident of Sterling, Virginia, and president of the Capital Research Center in Washington, D.C., a 37-year-old think tank that is a watchdog on nonprofits.
I do not presume to tell you how to vote on S.B. 80 but only to tell you, as an expert on nonprofit funding, the question you face: Should the Commonwealth’s elections be governed by you, the people’s representatives, or by megadonors?
Personally, as a Virginia citizen I do not want donors—from anywhere on the political spectrum—or the nonprofits they use, to manipulate elections through gifts to government offices.
I want you, our democratically elected officials, to regulate Virginia’s elections, not megadonors from either party. Neither donors nor “nonpartisan” nonprofits can be trusted to keep their thumbs off the scale when they have millions in their hands.
At Capital Research Center, we have studied exhaustively one megadonor’s use of two supposedly nonpartisan nonprofits to send funds to government election offices in nearly every state, to the documented benefit of his preferred political party. But because this is a bipartisan problem, I won’t name either party in my testimony.
While one party benefitted dramatically in 2020, next time the other party’s donors may pull the same trick. All of us should want to avoid that.
I’ll call the lucky folks last time, “Party 1,” and the main “nonpartisan” nonprofit that benefitted them “Group 1.”
Group 1 received hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020 from one out-of-state billionaire. Nearly 4 million of those dollars came into government election offices in Virginia. The critical question is how much money went to which election offices.
I am not claiming the money funded fraud, only that it funded turnout targeted to help one side. For the sake of argument, I am happy to assume that not one vote in Virginia was cast fraudulently, and not one vote was miscounted. Even if that were true, it is scandalous that this outside money boosted turnout for Party 1 in its most vote-rich jurisdictions.
This is a new scheme in our politics, but we all know that when one party crafts a novel weapon and wins, the other party will add the weapon to its arsenal. Do you want to keep this legal loophole open and allow such an arms race?
Consider these data points for 2020, which should chill any Virginian. Group 1 in mid-2020 was generating controversy across the country as news of its grants to local election offices became public. The group long refused to make the details public, even though federal law required the group to report on its IRS Form 990, a public document, every grant of $5,000 or more to any government agency. The group delayed filing that document until the last second it was legally permitted: December 15, 2021. Rather than reassure the public in the midst of the election, it refused to reveal its grants earlier, even when asked by friendly news outlets including the New York Times, the Associated Press, National Public Radio, American Public Media, the New Yorker, and others.
Nonetheless, we at Capital Research Center examined the group’s “preliminary” list of grantees, as well as news databases and local government reports, and assembled the fullest data set available. As soon as the group finally revealed its grants, we compared them to our estimates and found our estimates largely accurate. (We also compiled a long list of discrepancies in the group’s reporting of its national grantmaking.)
We’ve publicly disclosed all the data we can find and published reports for the states of Virginia, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and North Carolina. For every state we’ve examined, we find that the megadonor’s funding via Group 1has produced a highly partisan pattern.
We first examined the funding in Georgia, and our report was so shocking that the Georgia Senate asked me to testify about it.  Consider these facts:
- In Georgia, Group 1 gave grants to nine of the state’s ten counties with the greatest Party 1 shifts in their 2020 presidential vote. Those nine counties averaged an amazing 13.7 percent shift from 2016.
- In the 44 Georgia counties Group 1 funded, the presidential vote for Party 1 rose by more than two-and-a-half times the other party’s rise in the same counties, compared to 2016. This partisan effect in the funded counties produced a Party 1 advantage of about 323,000 votes in a state whose margin of victory for Party 1 was less than 12,000 votes.
In Virginia, the same pattern recurs.
- Total Grants: $3.7 million
- Average Per Capita Grant: $1.11 in counties Party 1 won vs. $0.66 in counties the other party won
- Partisan distribution bias:
- Group 1 gave grants to 14 of the 46 counties Party 1 won in 2020.
- Two of these jurisdictions, James City County and Lynchburg, narrowly flipped to Party 1 in 2020 from the other party in 2016.
- These 14 counties Party 1 won received $3.4 million, over 90 percent of all Group 1 grants in Virginia.
- Group 1 gave grants to 22 of the 87 counties Party 2 won.
- But these 22 counties only received $358,910, a mere 9.6 percent of all Group 1 grants in the Old Dominion. This is the second-most lopsided bias in favor of Party 1-leaning counties we’ve identified (after Texas).
- Fairfax County, the most populous in Virginia, received nearly 3.5 times ($1.24 million) as much from Group 1 as every Party 2 county combined.
- Turnout effect:
- Group 1-funded counties gave close to 1.2 million votes to Party 1’s presidential candidate, 49 percent of his statewide total.
- Turnout for Party 1 in these counties increased by 206,000 votes (17 percent) over the party’s 2016 turnout.
- Funded counties gave just 699,000 votes to Party 2’s presidential candidate, or 36 percent of his statewide total.
- Party 2’s turnout increased by 68,319 votes (12 percent) over the same candidate’s 2016 performance.
- Party 1’s turnout increased most dramatically in Northern Virginia, where just 4 counties contain 25 percent of Virginia’s entire population and the core of the state’s Party 1 voters.
- My home county of Loudoun, for instance, saw a 37 percent increase in Party 1 turnout (37,577 votes), with the party winning Loudoun by more than 56,000 presidential votes.
Of course, precisely because Virginia’s population is unevenly distributed across our counties, Capital Research Center corrected for population differences by analyzing Group 1’s funding per capita. Here, too, we find sharp disproportions in the group’s grantmaking.
- Per capita bias:
- Breaking down Group 1’s largest grants per capita reveals a deep bias towards Party 1:
- Petersburg (Party 1): $2.45
- Charlotte County (Party 2): $1.74
- Halifax County (Party 2): $1.62
- Prince William County (Party 1): $1.31
- Alexandria (Party 1): $1.26
- Manassas (Party 1): $1.26
- Henrico County (Party 1): $1.23
- Emporia (Party 1): $1.15
- Charles City County (Party 1): $1.09
- Fairfax County (Party 1): $1.08
- Arlington County (Party 1): $1.08
- Franklin (Party 1): $0.96
- Party 1 won 9 of the 11 most richly funded counties (>$1.00 per person), while the other party won 20 of the 25 least-funded (<$1.00 per person).
Our analysis found that this pattern repeats in every battleground state. First, Group 1 is far more likely to fund election jurisdictions that are rich with Party 1 votes. Second, it funds those jurisdictions much more heavily per capita.
Election expert J. Christian Adams sums it up: Group 1’s cash “converted election offices in key jurisdictions with deep reservoirs of [Party 1] votes into Formula One turnout machines.”
That’s what happened last time. Next time, the opposite could happen—if you allow it.
 Complete data may be downloaded at https://capitalresearch.org/app/uploads/CTCL-Virginia-Updated-Data-Set-from-990.xlsx. For a comparison of that final data with our original estimates for Virginia, see https://capitalresearch.org/article/shining-a-light-on-zuck-bucks-in-key-states/.