Montana could show just how ‘addicted’ election offices are to private money like Mark Zuckerberg’s, report says

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As states across the country banned private funding of election administration in response to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who spent an estimated $400 million on the process in 2020, Montana election officials voiced opposition urgent in email exchanges for the same to happen in their state.

In March 2021, an email from an official with the Montana Association of Counties informed county poll clerks that the bill to ban what is sometimes called “Zuckbucks” is “dead and postponed indefinitely.” . In the emails, a county official replied “Woot! Woot!” One wrote: “You are all amazing.” Another wrote: “This is so awesome.”

The responses demonstrate that local election officials are “addicted” to private money from potentially politicized actors, according to a recent report by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a watchdog group that analyzed emails obtained in connection with a request for public records.

While Zuckerberg announced he had withdrawn from future election administration funding after 21 states banned such funding, another email shows that donor interest in influencing the conduct of the election has not not diminished.


With an image of himself on a screen in the background, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House office building on Capitol Hill on October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On March 17, 2021, Kristi Smith, Voting Rights Coordinator for Montana Voices, emailed Shantil Siaperas, Director of Communications for the Montana Counties Association to say, “There is a funder who monitored” the legislation before it was voted down. She added that “the funder is evaluating the potential scope of their investment, and I would like 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 election administration grants in 2020, gave $1.7 million to 21 counties in Montana.

Conservatives have widely criticized the grants for being handed out to predominantly Democratic areas and with strings attached. 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 his challenger, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

“It shows that they have so much money they don’t know what to do with it, so they’re drilling deep into enemy territory with all that money,” J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, told FoxNews. Digital. “They have come up with a perfectly legal system and will amplify their influence in the elections through left-wing philanthropy and influence peddling with local election officials.”

The report, “Final Frontier: After Our Elections Are Buyed, They Will Never The Same Again,” argues that Republican-leaning Montana is indicative of a larger national problem.

“Direct left-wing funding of election administration is the final aspect of exercising control over the electoral process. Buying the process, not the short-term electoral outcome, is the real game,” the official said. report. “No matter if Mark Zuckerberg balks at putting more money in to fund elections, others are coming to take his place in states without legal safeguards. The race is on, and local officials are already addicted to easy money – that whether they need it or not.”


The legislation banning private funds was a “reactionary response to a hypothetical threat” because state laws already prohibit money from the public treasury – which a grant would once be accepted – from being used to advance a candidate or political committee, said Siaperas of the Montana Counties Association.

“Election administrators were opposed to SB 335 because passing such a bill would prohibit future private grants, which could negatively impact county operations, and there are already safeguards in current law. of Montana that make the legislation unnecessary,” Siaperas said. Fox News Digital.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has found himself embroiled in various controversies in recent weeks.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has found himself embroiled in various controversies in recent weeks.

She added, “Elections in Montana have been and will continue to be administered in a professional and transparent manner, and the decision to seek and use grants to support local elections should be left to local officials.”

The Center for Tech and Civic Life did not immediately respond to inquiries about this story.

Even without Zuckerberg’s funding, the center continues to have influence, according to the legal foundation’s report, as the organization launched the American Alliance for Electoral Excellence to promote certain electoral methods at the grassroots level. .

“Actually, the CTCL is growing. They’re starting a new company called the American Alliance for Election Excellence, which is promising an $80 million grant to local election officials for help,” the statement said. legal foundation. “This represents only a superficial representation of the parallel ecosystem of left-leaning nonprofits willing to financially support and augment government administration of elections.”

The legal foundation’s report shows emails from fall 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 to have a plan.”

The legal foundation’s report states: “Discussions did not focus on how these funds have been a lifeline to perform essential election administration tasks. They were generally treated as bargains back then.

Email exchanges between county officials expressed opposition to the proposal that banning private money would mean an expense for taxpayers.

The Center for Tech and Civic Life, however, demanded that election services agree that the grants “do not replace previously designated funds.”


The report dismissed as a spin the call for fiscal responsibility.

“Remember, these are counties that sometimes operate with annual budgets of $250,000 to $750,000 for election operations and they didn’t find out what they thought was $5,000 until a month before the big day. , according to initial email chatter,” the report read.

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