Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who wants communities in her state to continue accepting private funding for election administration, is trying for the third time to have a lawsuit challenging the practice thrown out.
The legal controversy arose after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife gave $419.5 million to left-wing activist groups during the 2020 election cycle, purportedly to ease the strain on election systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of these “Zuck bucks,” as some call the money, $350 million went to the Safe Elections Project of the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), which in turn used the money for grants to sympathetic groups, according to the Thomas More Society’s Amistad Project.
The Thomas More Society is a national, not-for-profit public interest law firm; the project “works to preserve civil liberties in a time of great national challenge,” according to the society.
Amistad Project director Phill Kline, the former Republican attorney general of Kansas, said in a report that Zuckerberg’s funding “dictated city and county election management” and in the process violated federal law and state legislature-endorsed election plans.
In addition, “executive officials in swing states facilitated, through unique and novel contracts, the sharing of private and sensitive information about citizens within those states with private interests, some [of] whom actively promote leftist candidates and agendas.”
This sharing of data “allowed direct access to data of unique political value to leftist causes, and created new vulnerabilities for digital manipulation of state electronic poll books and counting systems and machines.”
The lawsuit, Ryan v. Benson, is before Michigan’s Court of Claims. Benson, the defendant, tried and failed on two previous occasions to have the lawsuit dismissed.
On Feb. 14, the plaintiffs filed a response (pdf) to Benson’s latest motion for summary disposition, arguing that the motion should be denied because discovery is not yet complete and “remains open until the end of March,” according to the court’s scheduling order. CTCL, which required grant monies “to be used, among other purposes, to purchase remote, unattended ballot boxes that violated Michigan law and facilitated mail-in voting and ballot harvesting,” has not yet provided full responses, the plaintiffs said in the response.
The plaintiffs say that the Zuckerberg money was supposed to be used to buy personal protective equipment, but only a small percentage of it was used to pay for COVID-19-related personal protective equipment.
Thor Hearne, Thomas More Society special counsel, said, “COVID dangers were used as a cover for providing Center for Tech and Civic Life monies to municipalities to boost Democrat candidates in the 2020 election through increased mail-in voting and ballot harvesting in predominantly urban jurisdictions and to the detriment of Michigan voters who live in suburban and rural jurisdictions of the state.”
Because the funds went through CTCL, a legally recognized “charity,” they were characterized as “grants,” and Zuckerberg’s “donations” were not covered by campaign finance laws, and became unlimited and unregulated so-called dark money, Hearne said.
The Zuckerberg money was illegally used in “an election scheme that enhances the weight of votes cast by one class of voters or increases one favored class of voters’ access to the ballot,” he said. The scheme was calculated “to favor urban areas in Michigan and to disadvantage Michigan voters in rural and suburban more politically conservative areas.”
The legal case goes back to early October 2020, Hearne told The Epoch Times in an interview.
“Local election clerks in Michigan, in rural areas, began calling and complaining about the fact” that CTCL, which they had never heard of before, was handing out grants to election officials, he said.
“And they said, ‘They’re offering to give us money to run the election, but they want us to do it in a certain way,’ and they thought that wasn’t proper,” Hearne said.
“That’s how we found out about it. None of this money was paid under campaign finance rules—none of that was disclosed. That’s the only way anybody learned of this.”
It became “even more absurd when the person paying for it also requires that the local election officials sign a contract agreeing to spend the money and conduct the election in a certain manner,” Hearne said.
If, for example, it costs a local jurisdiction $14 million to run an election, “and Zuckerberg comes in and says, ‘Well, I’ll give you $7 million so you can get more people out, mail out more ballots, that’s a huge, huge number,” Hearne said.
A Benson aide declined to comment.
“We do not comment on ongoing litigation,” Tracy Wimmer, director of media relations in the Michigan Department of State, said via email.
Steven Kovac contributed to this article.