As states across the country ban private funding of election administrations in response to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spending nearly $400 million on the process in 2020, Montana election officials quickly expressed opposition in email exchanges to something similar happening in their state.
In March 2021, an email from a Montana Association of Counties official notified county election clerks that a bill to ban what are sometimes called “Zookbucks” is “dead and indefinitely postponed.” In an email, a county official said “Woot! Woot!” Answered that. “You are all amazing,” wrote one. Another wrote, “That’s awesome.”
According to a recent report by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a watchdog group that analyzed emails received in public records requests, responses show local election officials are “addicted” to private money from potential political actors.
While Zuckerberg announced that he would stay away from future election administration funds after 21 states banned such funds, another email shows that donors’ interest in influencing how elections are run has not waned.
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On March 17, 2021, Kristy Smith, voting rights coordinator for Montana Voices, sent an email to Shantil Siaperas, director of communications for the Montana Association of Counties, saying: “There’s a funder that’s watching” before the legislation was defeated. She added, “The funder is evaluating their potential scope of investment and I would like to be able to make a recommendation to them if they are interested.”
The Center for Tech and Civic Life, a left-leaning group that received $350 million in 2020 election administration grants from the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation, gave $1.7 million to 21 Montana counties.
The subsidies were widely criticized by conservatives in mostly Democratic regions and with strings attached. Montana was not a battleground state in the 2020 presidential race. However, this Republican Sen. It was the site of a Senate race between Steve Danes and challenger, Democratic Governor Steve Bullock.
“It shows that they have so much money that they don’t know what to do with it all, so they are taking all the cash and digging deep into enemy territory,” J. Christian Adams, President of Public Interest Legal Foundation, told Fox News Digital. “They have devised a great legal scheme and will increase their influence on the election through left-wing and peddling local election officials.”
The report, titled “Final Frontier: After Our Elections Are Bye, They’ll Be The Same Again,” argues that Montana, a Republican-leaning state, is indicative of a larger national problem.
“Funding the election administration directly from the left is the last aspect to control the electoral process. The procurement process, not the short-term election results, is the real drama,” the report said. “It doesn’t matter if Mark Zuckerberg balks at spending more money on elections, others are coming to take his place in states with no legal protections. The race is on, and local officials are already addicted to the easy money — whether they need it or not. .”
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The law banning private funding was a “reactive response to a hypothetical threat” because state laws already prohibit money in public coffers — which would accept grants — from being used to advance a political candidate or committee, Caperus said. Montana Association of Counties.
“Electoral administrators were against SB 335 because passing such a bill would prohibit future private grant dollars, which has the potential to negatively impact county operations, and existing Montana law already has protections that make the law unnecessary,” Siaparas said. Fox News Digital.
She added, “Montana elections are and will continue to be administered in a professional and transparent manner, and the decision to apply for and use grant funds to support local elections should be left up to local officials.”
The Center for Tech and Civic Life did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.
Even without Zuckerberg’s funding, the center maintains its influence, the legal foundation reports, adding that the organization launched the US Alliance for Election Excellence to promote some election practices at the local level.
“In fact, CTCL is expanding. They’re launching a new initiative called the US Alliance for Election Excellence, which promises $80 million in grants to tap local election officials for help,” the legal foundation says. “It only represents a shallow representation of the parallel ecosystem of left-leaning nonprofits willing to finance and enhance government administration of elections.”
A report from the Legal Foundation shows emails from the fall of 2020 that make it easier to apply for grants. “Easiest grant application ever,” a Tooele County election official emailed others in the chat. “Easiest $5,000 I’ve ever asked for,” the Madison County official wrote. The CTCL minimum was $5,000. “I just submitted and you don’t need to have a plan,” the Ravalli County official wrote.
A report by the Legal Foundation said, “The chatter did not focus on how the money was vital to carry out the core duties of election administration. At the time, they were generally considered windfalls.”
An email exchange between county officials showed opposition to the proposal to ban private money that would cost taxpayers.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life, however, has agreed to pay the required election departments “will not replace funds previously appropriated.”
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The report was dismissed as a financial responsibility plea spin.
“Remember, these counties sometimes operate with annual budgets of $250,000 to $750,000 for election operations, and according to initial e-mail chatter, they found out what they thought was $5,000 a month before the big day,” the report said.