Pennsylvania Bans ‘Zuck Bucks’ Private Funds in Election Operations
Pennsylvania has banned public officials from receiving and using private election grants, including those from nonprofits, in a bid to boost election integrity by reducing outside influence.
As of July 2022, over 20 states have passed laws banning or restricting public officials’ use of unregulated third-party monies when conducting elections. It comes after conservative analysts contend that such funds—dubbed “Zuck Bucks”—were allegedly strategic in their placement in swing states, beefing up vote totals in 2020 for then-presidential candidate Joe Biden to eventually win the election.
Election offices across Pennsylvania received more than $25 million in “Zuck Bucks” grants during the 2020 election cycle, according to data released by Capital Research Center.
Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law Senate Bill 982 (pdf) on July 11 mandating that public officials of state and local governments “may not solicit, apply for, enter into a contract for or receive or expend gifts, donations, grants or funding from any individual, business, organization, trust, foundation, or any nongovernmental entity for the registration of voters or the preparation, administration or conduction of an election in this commonwealth,” as per the new election integrity legislation.
“For us, reform begins with prohibiting private groups from funding election administration,” the bill’s primary sponsor state Sen. Lisa Baker said in a statement issued upon the law’s passage. She called the amendments “substantial structural improvements.”
“No matter who on the outside is contributing, no matter their expressed motivations,” Baker said, “millions of dollars coming in from national figures or organizations naturally raises suspicions of hidden agendas.”
Instead, the bill introduces a brand new “election integrity grant program,” wherein the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development is permitted to provide $45 million each year—or $5.15 per registered voter—to reimburse counties.
Yet it limits the circumstances for use of the grants, such as “payment of staff needed to pre-canvass and canvass mail-in ballots and absentee ballots” and “physical security and transparency costs for centralized pre-canvassing and canvassing.”
The total amount of the grants will be determined based on the population of registered voters in the previous primary election. To qualify for the state deal, counties are required to open and count ballots from 7 a.m. on Election Day, which doesn’t allow counties to process mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day.
Counties can submit applications between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15.
A Mark Zuckerberg-funded activist group, the Chicago nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), flooded election offices largely in Democratic Party strongholds with hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020, which experts have seen as an apparent effort to drive up voter turnout for that party.
The billionaire Facebook founder, along with his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $350 million to CTCL to fund local election offices nationally, calling them “COVID-19 response grants.” The money was advertised as a resource to buy personal protective equipment and reduce the spread of the coronavirus—yet COVID-19 response turned out to be a fraction of the total expenditures.
Researchers at the Capital Research Center, a Washington-based conservative non-profit organization, found that CTCL had given grants to 10 of the 13 counties Biden won in Pennsylvania, one of which—Erie County—flipped from Trump’s 2016 column.
“Together, these 10 counties received $20.8 million, or over 83 percent of all CTCL grants to Pennsylvania,” the report reads. “In contrast, CTCL gave grants to 12 of the 54 counties Trump won statewide. These 12 counties received just $1.73 million, a mere 7 percent of all CTCL funds in the Keystone state.”
The five biggest grants per capita in CTCL-funded counties statewide all went to those that Biden won, the study shows.
A spokesman for Facebook did not respond to a request for an interview.
Zuckerberg commissioned a report in December, which emphasized that “more Republican jurisdictions, defined as municipalities that voted for Trump in 2020, applied for and received grants.” The conclusion was deemed misleading among some election data experts because Republican jurisdictions were far more likely to receive grants of less than $50,000, which would likely not be enough to materially change election practices in the recipient jurisdiction.
Last month, a report of tax records filed by CTCL showed that the group “awarded all larger grants—on both an absolute and per capita basis to deeply Democratic urban areas,” particularly in swing states.
As of July 2022, 22 states have enacted laws to ban or restrict private money for state and county election boards to administer public elections, according to the Capital Research Center. Legislatures in six other states have passed potential bans, yet the governors—all Democrats—have vetoed such legislation.
While the Pennsylvania governor signed SB 982 into law, he struck down a separate election security bill from Republicans, which would allow registered voters in Pennsylvania to serve as poll watchers in any precinct in the state.
An investigation by Broad and Liberty, a right-leaning publication dedicated to Pennsylvania politics, obtained emails showing that Wolf’s office coordinated with left-wing nonprofits to implement a secretive process that selectively invited Democratic counties to apply for “Zuck Bucks” grants.