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As states across the country banned private funding of election administration in response to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spending an estimated $400 million on the process in 2020, Montana election officials expressed urgent opposition to the same email exchanges that happens in their state.
In March 2021, an email from a Montana Association of Counties official informed county election officials that the bill to ban what are sometimes called “Zuckbucks” is “dead and on hold indefinitely.” In the emails, a county official responded “Woot! Woot!” One wrote: “You are all amazing.” Another wrote, “This is so awesome.”
The responses show that local election officials are “addicted” to private money from potentially politicized actors, according to a recent report from the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a watchdog group that analyzed emails obtained in a public records request.
While Zuckerberg announced that he was giving up future funding for the election administration after 21 states passed bans on such funding, another email shows donors’ interest in influencing how elections are conducted has not waned.
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On March 17, 2021, Kristi Smith, voting rights coordinator for Montana Voices, emailed Shantil Siaperas, director of communications for the Montana Association of Counties, to say, “There is a funder that was watching” the legislation before it was defeated. He added that “The funder is evaluating the potential scope of their investment and I would love to be able to make a recommendation to them if there is interest.”
The Center for Tech and Civic Life, the left-leaning group that got $350 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation for campaign management grants in 2020, gave $1.7 million to 21 Montana counties.
Conservatives have widely criticized the grants for being distributed in predominantly Democratic and tight-knit areas. Montana was not a battleground state in the 2020 presidential race. It was, however, the site of a contested Senate race between Republican Sen. Steve Daines and challenger, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
“It shows that they have so much money that they don’t know what to do with it all, so they’re digging deep into enemy territory with all that cash,” J. Christian Adams, president of Public Interest Legal Foundation, he told Fox News Digital. “They have concocted a perfectly legal plan and will increase their influence in the election through left-wing philanthropy and influence with local election officials.”
The report, “Final Frontier: After Our Elections Are Bought, They’ll Never Be The Same,” argues that Montana, a Republican-leaning state, is indicative of a larger national problem.
“Direct left-wing funding of election management is the last aspect to exercise control over the electoral process. Buying the process, not the short-term electoral outcome, is the real game,” the report said. “It doesn’t matter if Mark Zuckerberg is reluctant to raise more money to finance elections, others are coming to take his place in states without legal safeguards. The race is on, and local officials are already addicted to the easy money — whether they need it or not.” or not”.
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The legislation to ban private funds was a “reactive response to a hypothetical threat” because state laws already prohibit money in the public treasury — which would be a post-admission grant — from being used to promote a political candidate or committee, said Siaperas of the Montana Association of Counties.
“Election administrators opposed SB 335 because passage of such a bill would prohibit future private grant dollars, which have the potential to negatively impact county operations, and there are already safeguards in existing Montana law that make the legislation unnecessary “, said Schiaperas. Fox News Digital.
He added, “Montana elections have been and will continue to be administered in a professional and transparent manner, and the decision to apply for and use a grant to support local elections should be left to local officials.”
The Center for Technology and Political Life did not immediately respond to questions for this story.
Even without Zuckerberg’s funding, the center continues to be influential, the law firm’s report says, as the organization has launched the American Alliance for Election Excellence to promote certain election methods at the local level.
“In fact, CTCL is expanding. They’re launching a new venture called the US Alliance for Election Excellence, which promises an $80 million grant to local election officials to leverage assistance,” the law firm says. “This represents only a shallow representation of the parallel ecosystem of left-wing nonprofits ready to financially support and bolster government administration of elections.”
The law firm’s report shows emails from the fall of 2020 touting the ease of applying for grants. A Toole County election official emailed others in a chat to say, “Easiest grant application ever.” A Madison County official wrote, “Easiest $5,000 I’ve ever asked for.” The minimum CTCL was $5,000. A Ravalli County official wrote: “I just submitted and you don’t need a plan.”
The law firm’s report says, “The chatter did not focus on how this money was lifesaving in performing essential election functions. It was generally treated as a windfall at the time.”
Email exchanges between county officials expressed opposition to the proposal to ban private money would mean an expense to taxpayers.
The Center for Technology and Political Life, however, has asked electoral divisions to agree the money “will not replace previously appropriated funds.”
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The report dismissed the tax liability claim as an understatement.
“Remember, these are counties that sometimes operate with annual budgets of $250,000 to $750,000 for election operations, and they found out about what they thought was $5,000 only a month before the big day, according to the initial email conversation,” says exhibition.