“Follow the money.” If you really want to discover who is behind something, it is money that talks, and in this year’s election balloting, Mark Zuckerberg’s money talked loudly — some $400 million.
That was the amount the California billionaire donated in the months leading to the Nov. 3 election to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a little-known nonprofit that until one year ago had revenue of just $1.4 million. Zuckerberg’s $400 million was then was funneled by CTCL to hundreds of local election offices across the country, including at least $27.6 million to election offices in my home state of Georgia, according to research by the Washington, D.C.-based Capital Research Center.
It is illegal for federal agencies to supplement their budgets with private funding, but not so with most state and local governments eager to have their budgets padded with cash infusions from outside “civic interest” groups. This election cycle, for example, DeKalb County, Georgia CEO Michael Thurmond, whose county received $4.8 million from CTCL in October, gushed that the largesse would help “build an election system that all citizens … can be proud of.” Maybe, or maybe not.
The money doled out by CTCL served as a real windfall for many other county budgeteers balancing mounting needs against revenues this past year. My home county of Cobb (which, like DeKalb is part of the Atlanta metropolitan area) received $5.6 million, which is more than the entire revenue of $5.3 allocated by the county’s board of commissioners for the elections office in FY21.
A list of the founders of CTCL reads like a who’s who of Democrat politicos, and organizations that are known supporters of the non-profit’s work include, in addition to Zuckerberg’s Facebook, Google and Rock the Vote; nary a single conservative-oriented donor organization’s name appears on CTCL’s website. Counties and election officials that received major donations from CTCL appear to reflect that liberal bias. While this bias might be considered mere coincidence, it is unlikely.
As analyzed by Scott Walter, President of the Capital Research Center, and who testified before the Georgia State Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 3.
Nine out of 10 of CTCL’s largest known grants in Georgia went to Biden counties.
CTCL gave grants to nine of the 10 counties (in Georgia) with the greatest Democratic shifts in their 2020 voting … averaged a 13.7% shift blue-ward, with Cobb County as one of four counties that delivered Biden the most votes.
In Georgia, Biden carried 33 counties that delivered him votes in five- and six-figures, and 70 percent received CTCL grants.
Walter has noted that obtaining full information from CTCL on exactly where and in what amounts it spent Zuckerberg’s millions over the past few months is extremely difficult, since the nonprofit has refused to make such details publicly available. His Capital Research Center has had to piece it together from secondary sources such as Ballotpedia. Notably, however, CTCL has not disputed his figures or analysis.
CTCL was similarly active in a number of other battleground states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan. For example, Chester County, Pennsylvania election director Bill Turner happily accepted $2.5 million from CTCL, thereby more than doubling his agency’s budget. According to other reports, major Democrat stronghold cities of Milwaukee and Philadelphia received CTCL grants valued at more than half their election budgets.
The liberal Brennan Center for Justice in New York City lauded the Zuckerberg-funded pot of gold as a way for election offices to “fund their dream election.” But the monetary interference raises serious questions about how and why private outside organizations and mega-donors should be permitted to lavishly supplement election offices of their choosing in a way that reeks of partisanship. Local elected officials of course welcome the “free” money without asking hard questions about how it will actually be employed and who will be the real beneficiaries.
However, for those of us concerned with holding local elected officials accountable for their budgetary decisions, and who are worried that Silicon Valley billionaires are greasing the skids for their preferred candidates, this problem is serious and far from over.
CTCL already is soliciting grant requests from Georgia counties gearing up for the state’s two crucial senatorial runoffs on Jan. 5 that will determine the Senate majority in 2021 and beyond. If you think Mark Zuckerberg and others like him are not eyeing that prize, think again.
This column by former U.S. Rep. Bobb, R-Ga., first appeared in the Marietta Daily Journal.