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As states across the country have been blocking private funding for the election management in response to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spending nearly $400 million on the process in 2020, Montana election officials have expressed urgent opposition in email exchanges to what is happening in their state.
In March 2021, an email from a Montana county assembly official notified county election employees that a bill to ban what are sometimes called “Zuckbucks” was “dead and indefinitely postponed.” In the emails, the county official replied, “Woot! Woot!” One wrote, “You are all amazing.” Another wrote, “This is so cool.”
The responses show that local election officials are “addicted” to private money from potentially politicized actors, according to a recent report from the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a watchdog group that analyzed emails obtained in a public records request.
While Zuckerberg announced that he was backing away from future election management funding after 21 states passed bans on such funding, another email shows donor interest in influencing how elections are conducted has not waned.
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On March 17, 2021, Kristi Smith, the Montana Voices Voting Rights Coordinator, emailed Chantelle Ciberas, the director of communications for the Montana County Association, to say, “There was a financier who was watching” the legislation before it was defeated. “The financier is assessing the potential scope of his investment, and I would like to be able to make a recommendation to them if there is a benefit,” she added.
The Center for Technology and Civic Life, the left-leaning group that received $350 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation for election management grants in 2020, has provided $1.7 million to 21 Montana counties.
Conservatives have widely criticized the grants for being distributed to mostly Democratic districts and with tied conditions. Montana was not a battleground state in the 2020 presidential race. It was, however, the site of the contested Senate race between Republican Senator Steve Danes and his rival, Democratic Governor Steve Bullock.
Christian Adams, President of Public Interest Legal Foundation, for Fox News Digital. “They have devised a completely legal scheme and will consolidate their influence on the elections through left-wing philanthropy and leverage with local election officials.”
The report, titled “The Final Frontier: After Our Elections Will Never Be The Same Again,” argues that Montana, a republican-leaning state, is indicative of a larger national problem.
“Left-directed financing of the election administration is the last aspect of exercising control over the electoral process. Purchasing the process, not the short-term election outcome, is the real play,” the report says. “It doesn’t matter if Mark Zuckerberg refuses to put up more money to fund elections, others will come to take his place in states where there are no legal safeguards. The race is on, and local officials are already addicted to easy money – whether they want it or not.”
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Legislation banning private money was a “backlash to a hypothetical threat” because state laws already prohibit money in the public treasury — which would be the grant when approved — from being used to present a candidate or political committee, said Ciaperas of the Montana County Association.
“Election administrators were opposed to SB 335 because passing such a law would prohibit future private grant money, which would potentially negatively impact county operations, and there are already safeguards in existing Montana law that made the legislation unnecessary,” Ciaperas said. Fox News Digital.
“Montana’s elections have been, and will continue to be, conducted in a professional and transparent manner, and the decision to apply for and use grant funding to support local elections should be left to local officials,” she added.
The Center for Technology and Civil Life did not immediately respond to inquiries regarding this story.
The law firm’s report says that even without Zuckerberg’s funding, the center still retains influence, as the organization launched the American Coalition for Election Excellence to promote certain electoral tactics at the local level.
“In fact, CTCL is expanding,” the law firm says. “They’re launching a new project called the American Coalition for Election Excellence, which promises to provide an $80 million grant to local election officials for assistance.” “This is nothing but a shallow representation of the parallel ecosystem of left-leaning nonprofits standing by to provide financial support and increase government management of elections.”
The law firm’s report shows emails from Fall 2020 promoting ease of applying for grants. A Toole County electoral official emailed others in conversation to tell them, “Easiest grant application ever.” “The easiest $5,000 I’ve ever asked for,” a Madison County official wrote. The minimum CTCL was $5,000. “You just filed, and you don’t have to have a plan,” a Ravale County official wrote.
The legal establishment’s report states, “The chatter was not centered on how life-saving this money was to perform basic election administration duties. It was generally treated as a windfall at the time.”
Emails exchanged between county officials expressed their opposition to a proposal to ban private money from taxpayers’ expense.
However, the Center for Technology and Civil Life asked electoral administrations to agree to award funds that “won’t replace funds that were previously allocated.”
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The report refused to invoke financial responsibility as a fabrication.
“Remember, these counties sometimes run with annual budgets of $250,000 to $750,000 for electoral operations and only knew what they thought was $5,000 one month before the big day, according to the initial email conversation,” the report states.