Pennsylvania has banned public officials from receiving and using private election grants, including those from nonprofits, in a bid to boost election integrity by reducing outside influence.
As of July 2022, over 20 states have passed laws banning or restricting public officials’ use of unregulated third-party monies when conducting elections. It comes after conservative analysts contend that such funds—dubbed “Zuck Bucks”—were allegedly strategic in their placement in swing states, beefing up vote totals in 2020 for then-presidential candidate Joe Biden to eventually win the election.
“No matter who on the outside is contributing, no matter their expressed motivations,” Baker said, “millions of dollars coming in from national figures or organizations naturally raises suspicions of hidden agendas.”
Instead, the bill introduces a brand new “election integrity grant program,” wherein the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development is permitted to provide $45 million each year—or $5.15 per registered voter—to reimburse counties.
Yet it limits the circumstances for use of the grants, such as “payment of staff needed to pre-canvass and canvass mail-in ballots and absentee ballots” and “physical security and transparency costs for centralized pre-canvassing and canvassing.”
The total amount of the grants will be determined based on the population of registered voters in the previous primary election. To qualify for the state deal, counties are required to open and count ballots from 7 a.m. on Election Day, which doesn’t allow counties to process mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day.
Third-Party GrantsA Mark Zuckerberg-funded activist group, the Chicago nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), flooded election offices largely in Democratic Party strongholds with hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020, which experts have seen as an apparent effort to drive up voter turnout for that party.
The billionaire Facebook founder, along with his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $350 million to CTCL to fund local election offices nationally, calling them “COVID-19 response grants.” The money was advertised as a resource to buy personal protective equipment and reduce the spread of the coronavirus—yet COVID-19 response turned out to be a fraction of the total expenditures.
“Together, these 10 counties received $20.8 million, or over 83 percent of all CTCL grants to Pennsylvania,” the report reads. “In contrast, CTCL gave grants to 12 of the 54 counties Trump won statewide. These 12 counties received just $1.73 million, a mere 7 percent of all CTCL funds in the Keystone state.”
The five biggest grants per capita in CTCL-funded counties statewide all went to those that Biden won, the study shows.
A spokesman for Facebook did not respond to a request for an interview.
Last month, a report of tax records filed by CTCL showed that the group “awarded all larger grants—on both an absolute and per capita basis to deeply Democratic urban areas,” particularly in swing states.
While the Pennsylvania governor signed SB 982 into law, he struck down a separate election security bill from Republicans, which would allow registered voters in Pennsylvania to serve as poll watchers in any precinct in the state.