What Is Mark Zuckerberg’s Election Money Doing in Georgia?
The biggest question the Georgia legislature should ask is whether a California billionaire should be allowed to waltz into the Peach State and finance aspects of their elections.
Jan. 2022 Update: This report was written with the best information available in 2021 but is now out-of-date.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 Georgia in “Shining a Light on Zuck Bucks“
Imagine if a billionaire of conservative or libertarian leanings—Charles Koch, say—had given $350 million to a nonprofit run by Republican operatives who previously worked at a “dark money” outfit tied to Karl Rove where they trained digital activists and campaign workers.
Then imagine this nonprofit group re-granted the millions of dollars to local election officials to “help” them carry out the 2020 election—buying drop boxes for ballots, hiring temporary staff, conducting “voter education,” and the like.
Finally, imagine that in 2020, a state that usually voted for the other party in presidential elections narrowly flipped to the donor’s preferred party, and counties receiving “help” were disproportionately ones that helped the Republican win the state, with many counties shifting dramatically from their historical patterns in a red-ward direction.
Even supposing there were perfectly ethical and legal reasons for all this, because of the appearance of election influence from private parties with deep pockets, it would be front-page news. The New York Times would be outraged a nonprofit gave the appearance of acting in a partisan basis in an electoral process. Elected officials in the disfavored party would be loudly objecting, threatening lawsuits, demanding investigations of the election officials who accepted the funds, and insisting election laws be changed to prevent any such effort in the future.
As head of Capital Research Center, a watchdog on the use and abuse of nonprofits, I would sympathize with the angry politicians and happily critique the scheme publicly. But I know of no such effort by right-leaning donors or nonprofits.
I do know, however, of a scheme by left-leaning out-of-state donors Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan to give $350 million to an allegedly “nonpartisan” nonprofit, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), which in turn re-granted the funds to thousands of governmental election officials around the country. CRC has begun state-by-state studies of how these funds were used, beginning with Georgia (Pennsylvania is next). As I testified Friday to the Georgia state Senate, the Georgia data are startling.
We can’t specify all funding CTCL gave to Georgia counties, because the Center isn’t disclosing that information to the Associated Press or anyone else, even though they’re required to reveal it in their next IRS filing (which conveniently won’t appear until a year from now). But using local government records and news accounts, we’ve uncovered many of the largest grants, mostly given to the largest urban areas, and CTCL has disclosed which counties received grants, though not the amounts. Notably, CTCL funded less than one-third of all counties.
We’ve correlated the grants with the official vote totals for the counties involved. Here are some notable discoveries we’ve found:
- Nine out of ten of CTCL’s largest known grants went to counties Joe Biden won.
- Of the ten counties with the greatest shifts to the Democratic presidential candidate (comparing 2016 to 2020 votes), nine received CTCL grants.
- These nine grantees averaged a 13.7 percent shift toward the Democrat. Two, Cobb and Gwinnett, were among the four counties that delivered Biden the most votes.
- Although CTCL funded more counties won by Donald Trump than by Biden in raw numbers, it only funded 21 percent of all Trump counties versus 55 percent of Biden counties. So a Biden county was more than two-and-a-half times more likely to receive funding.
- CTCL funded all four counties that provided Biden 100,000 or more votes.
- And CTCL funded those four counties lavishly. Per capita, they received between $4.38 and $10.47 for every man, woman, and child.
- By contrast, so far as we currently know, only one county won by Trump was funded above one dollar per capita (Cherokee), and that county’s Democratic vote leapt up 70 percent, compared to a 24 percent rise in its Republican vote. Trump counties like Carroll, Camden, and Lumpkin received about a half-dollar or less.
- Biden carried 33 counties that delivered him 10,000 or more votes. CTCL funded 70 percent of them. By contrast, Trump carried 46 counties that gave him 10,000 or more votes, but CTCL funded only 20 percent of them. So the most vote-rich counties for Biden were three-and-a-half times more likely to be funded than Trump’s most vote-rich counties.
- Totaling votes in all 44 counties CTCL funded, the Republican presidential vote rose 207,000 over the last election. The Democratic presidential vote jumped by 530,000, or more than two-and-a-half times the Republican rise.
Do these numbers sound nonpartisan? If not, shouldn’t the authorities in Georgia and other battleground states, and authorities in Washington, start investigating what happened, and whether CTCL, which is legally forbidden to act as a partisan in elections, overstepped the law? There may be perfectly ethical explanations for all this that involve zero electoral influence by outside parties, but public trust in elections requires avoiding even the appearance of conflicts of interest.
I gave the Georgia senators some obvious questions to ask: How did these relationships between CTCL and counties in Georgia begin? Did CTCL reach out first? What preconditions did the Center put on its funds? Did the counties fulfill their budgetary and other obligations under Georgia state law when using these funds? Who designed voter “education” materials and advertisements?
Here’s an especially obvious question: Was any money spent on training to deter vote fraud, such as how to match signatures?
The biggest question the Georgia legislature should ask is whether a California billionaire should be allowed to waltz into the Peach State and finance aspects of their elections? Do they want billionaires in the future to steer election resources so unequally and inequitably?
That’s still a live question for Georgia and her voters, because CTCL is already offering more grants to county offices for the U.S. Senate runoff elections in January. As I told the Peach State senators, some states forbid this kind of funding. Georgia can too.
This article first appeared in the Federalist on December 7, 2020.