Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg will donate another $100 million to aid election officials around the US after an initial $300 million grant was ruled lawful by a federal judge despite warning that the money could distort the vote.
A lawsuit challenging the grant scheme in Wisconsin was struck down on Wednesday, with US District Judge William Griesbach stating that he found no legal reason to bar five major cities in the state from receiving $6.3 million from the donated funds. However, Griesbach noted in his decision that the private cash could potentially influence the outcome of the election.
The risk of skewing an election by providing additional private funding for conducting the election in certain areas of the state may be real.
“The record before the court, however, does not provide the support needed for the court to make such a determination, especially in light of the fact that over 100 additional Wisconsin municipalities received grants as well,” he added.
Initially brought by the Wisconsin Voters Alliance last month, the suit alleged Zuckerberg’s grant money was tantamount to bribery, arguing it would be used to unevenly boost voter turnout in Democratic districts across the five Wisconsin cities – Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine. Similar suits have been launched in a number of battleground states in the 2020 race, including Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Pennsylvania, where grant money is also on offer for local elections offices.
The funds are being drawn from a $300 million grant to the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), provided by Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan in September. The money is meant to finance elections administrators around the country and beef up coronavirus safety measures at polling places. The Big Tech CEO added another $100 million to the pot on Tuesday, bringing his total contributions in line with the $400 million in emergency funds allocated by Congress to shore up state elections offices in March.
Though the CTCL maintains it is a non-partisan organization that offers “free and low-cost resources for local election administrators” with no regard to political leaning, the group’s founders each boast records in progressive and pro-Democratic circles. Prior to creating the CTCL, all three founding members – Tiana Epps-Johnson, Donny Bridges and Whitney May – held top positions with the New Organizing Institute, described by the Washington Post in 2014 as “the left’s think tank for campaign know-how.” Epps-Johnson also remains a fellow at the Obama Foundation, her LinkedIn page shows.
While the other lawsuits objecting to the CTCL donations elsewhere in the US have yet to conclude, some two dozen states in total have applied for the group’s funds, according to David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. With less than three weeks until the November 3 election and the Wisconsin suit hitting a dead end, it is unlikely the grant scheme will be halted nationwide before ballots are cast.