Pennsylvania lawmakers plan to introduce a measure banning private organizations from funding election administration in the Keystone State.
The bill’s sponsors, state Sens. Lisa Baker (R-Dallas) and Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-Jacobus) have cited the role that the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) played in election operations in Philadelphia and other Democratic-leaning counties in 2020. CTCL has been funded significantly by Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg.
The nonprofit bestowed $10 million on Philadelphia County in 2020, almost half of the $21 million the jurisdiction had at its disposal for election administration that year.
“Private, nongovernment money must not have a role in how we conduct elections in Pennsylvania,” the senators wrote in a statement on the bill. “No matter how well-intended, such outside support has the potential to unduly influence election procedures, policies, staffing and purchasing, which in turn may unfairly alter election outcomes. Even more importantly, it stands to erode voter confidence in a pillar of our beloved democracy.”
Baker and Phillips-Hill also said they’ve been unsettled by reporting that the CTCL grants only only underwent secret review by then Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar (D) and high ranking officials in Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) administration. Emails between the executive branch and county officials in Democratic-leaning Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties have come to light wherein the counties were invited to apply for funding from CTCL. (Bucks ultimately did not take the grant because of uncertainty as to who funded CTCL.)
No similar invitation from Pennsylvania’s governor’s office or Department of State urging a Republican-leaning county to request CTCL money has yet been publicized. While the nonprofit did award some grants to a few GOP-leaning counties, an April analysis by the Philadelphia-based outlet Broad + Liberty determined that the amount given to Democratic-leaning counties was over $20 million out of the roughly $22 million granted statewide.
The higher population figures in counties where Democrats predominate doesn’t begin to account for this disparity. The funds received by Philadelphia totaled five times those received by Berks County—the Republican-leaning county that got the largest CTCL grant—on a per-voter basis.
In the year since the 2020 presidential election, reports have come out detailing the conditions the nonprofit attached to the grants it conferred. Such terms included voter-outreach efforts, ballot-design stipulations and ballot “curing,” i.e., correcting problems on ballots that have already been submitted.
The political predilections of CTCL’s leadership have been no particularly well-kept secret. Its Executive Director Tiana Epps-Johnson and its Board Secretary Cristina Sinclaire used to work for the now-defunct New Organizing Institute, which The Washington Post described in 2014 as “the left’s think tank for campaign know-how.”
“The public, county election directors and elected officials were not afforded the privilege of examining the origins of this funding or its ties to various political affiliations and special interest groups,” Baker and Phillips-Hill wrote. “When only designated or preferred counties benefit from outside money, without accountability, fairness and transparency suffer.”
In all, Zuckerberg donated $400 million last year to CTCL and another elected-focused nonprofit, the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR). About 2,500 state, local and county governments across America received money from either CTCL or CEIR in 2020.
The efforts of these two organizations was the subject of questions U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05) directed at Attorney General Merrick Garland last week during a House Judiciary Committee Hearing. At the meeting, which otherwise concerned the Capitol attack on Jan. 6 and Garland’s order commencing an investigation into what he called “a disturbing spike” in violence at School Board meetings, Biggs asked the nation’s top prosecutor if he has directed his department to probe CTCL or CEIR’s work last year.
Garland claimed he was “not aware” of the issue.
This spring, in Biggs’s home state, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed legislation that bans private funding of election operations as the new Pennsylvania proposal would. About a dozen states have enacted similar laws.
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Bradley Vasoli is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Kristin Phillips-Hill” by Kristin Phillips-Hill and photo “Lisa Baker” by Pennsylvania Senate Republican Caucus CC BY 3.0.