Private funding of election administration banned in Texas

Private funding of election administration banned in Texas_60f1bf5b1dbdd.jpeg

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has signed legislation banning local election officials from accepting private funds to underwrite the cost of administering elections.

The move by Texas follows Arizona, Georgia and other states that banned the private money, reacting to the infusion of hundreds of millions of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s money, through third-party nonprofits, into battleground states in the November 2020 elections.

The largest beneficiary of Zuckerberg money, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), promoted itself as a nonpartisan group helping to ensure safe and secure elections during the pandemic. The group is headed by former Democratic operatives, and Democratic counties received the bulk of the CTCL money.

“The so-called donations were simply an attempt to use local governments as a cloak to cover partisan get-out-the-vote efforts,” Chad Ennis, senior fellow, Texas Public Policy Foundation, said in a statement.

Zuckerberg’s money covered 74% of Texas residents in 115 of the state’s 254 counties, a research brief published by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) found.

“If Texas’ election was limited only to those counties receiving the private funds, Joe Biden would have bested Donald Trump by roughly 270,000 votes,” the brief said. “In November 2020, Texas performed two kinds of elections. While the majority of counties (only 26% of state population) stuck to established/publicly budgeted procedures, the rest took Silicon Valley money in return for preferred administrative practices.”

The PILF research also determined that “ZuckBucks” flipped some counties from red to blue.

“Tarrant County, the last urban red county in Texas, flipped in 2020 with Biden improving by 43% in raw votes over 2016 to Trump’s 18% improvement,” the brief said.

CTCL’s method of operation was similar in other battleground states.

The Capital Research Center (CRC), a Washington, D.C.-based group that investigates the political activities of nonprofits, found that CTCL’s grants in Arizona were heavily centered in four of the five counties that Biden won. Trump carried the other 10 less-populous Arizona counties.

Biden’s counties made up 85% of his total votes. Maricopa County, by far the most populous county, received nearly $3 million. Conversely, only five of Trump’s counties were granted CTCL money, and they totaled only 11% of his overall vote count. Biden carried Arizona by nearly 11,000 votes, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1996 and only the second since 1948.

“CTCL’s dealings with local government officials should receive thorough scrutiny from both the IRS and state officials,” Scott Walter, president of the CRC, told Legal Newsline for an earlier story. “The IRS’ legal line for nonprofits like CTCL when they fund voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts is unclear but can be violated.

Walter said a presidential election is too important for questions raised by CTCL not to be investigated. 

“Likewise state law on private actors funding government offices is complicated but can be violated,” Walter said.

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