by Ailan Evans
Former President Barack Obama’s foundation is set to host a forum in November on dangers to democratic institutions that promotes the executive director of a non-profit that spent millions in “Zuckerbucks” funding election offices in the 2020 election.
Obama on Monday announced the Obama Foundation would host the “Democracy Forum,” an event focused on safeguarding democracy from various challenges set to include “pro-democracy thinkers, leaders, and activists,” in November. The forum, held in partnership with Columbia University and the University of Chicago, names as a “leader” Tiana Epps-Johnson, founder and executive director of the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), which distributed nearly $350 million in grants to election offices in the 2020 election thanks in large part to donations from an initiative backed by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Preceding the 2020 election, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative donated roughly $350 million to CTCL as part of the tech executive and his wife Priscilla Chan’s efforts to help administer the elections. CTCL, under Epps-Johnson’s leadership, sent grants to nearly 2,500 election departments across 47 states, ostensibly to help the administration of elections during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, there were few guardrails governing how local offices spent the funds, according to Vox.
The grants drew intense criticism from conservative watchdog groups and lawmakers alike, who viewed the cash as a means of boosting Democratic participation in the elections. Several states, including Virginia and Mississippi, have since passed laws banning private grants, citing election influence concerns and threats to the democratic process.
“It’s no surprise that Ms. Epps-Johnson, whose actions in election interference were recently deemed illegal and in violation of an anti-Zuckerbucks statute in Virginia, would be participating in a partisan electioneering panel led by President Obama,” Paige Agostin, Policy Director of the Center for Renewing America, a conservative advocacy group that filed legal complaints against CTCL, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “While it’s not surprising, this is after all the Left’s playbook, it should be a wake-up call to every American.”
Several analyses found CTCL’s grants to be biased in favor of Democrats; the Amistad Project, an initiative of the conservative Thomas More Society, found the grant distribution had a “distinct color of partisanship,” while the Foundation for Government Accountability found counties that received the grants had higher Democratic turnout.
“Counties that received Zuckerbucks saw a dramatic uptick in Democrat voter turnout compared to counties that did not receive grants,” the Foundation for Government Accountability wrote in 2021. “Ultimately, the outcome of the election may not have been different, but the average American is well within reason to wonder what the final vote counts would have looked like had Zuckerbucks not been in the picture.”
The Obama Foundation characterized Epps-Johnson as a “leader” working to “strengthen” democracy around the world on its webpage announcing the forum, claiming she does “groundbreaking work to make U.S. elections more inclusive and secure.”
Epps-Johnson was previously named an Obama Foundation fellow in 2018, and served as the election administration director for the New Organizing Institute, a now-defunct liberal campaigning group with ties to the Democratic Party.
The Obama Foundation, the Center for Technology and Civic Life and Epps-Johnson did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.
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Ailan Evans is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.