Zuckerberg Drops an Additional $100 Million into ‘Safe Elections’ Project that Looks Like a Democrat GOTV Effort

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23: Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg testified about Facebook's proposed cryptocurrency Libra, how his company will handle false and misleading information by …
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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Tuesday that he and his wife have donated an additional $100 million to a “safe elections” project run by the non-profit Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), bringing their total contributions to that project to $350 million since September 1.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, also announced a separate $50 million personal contribution in September to another non-profit, the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), to “assist [state] election officials as they seek to inform voters about their voting options and any changes [due to the coronavirus pandemic], educate them about how they can successfully ensure their ballot is received and counted, and bolster transparency and legitimacy.”

Critics say the CTCL project’s grants look a lot more like Democratic “Get-out-the-Vote” (GOTV) efforts in major cities around the country than good government efforts to protect the integrity of the electoral process of all Americans, regardless of their party affiliation.

Notably, Zuckerberg and Chan made the $400 million in total contributions to the CTCL and CEIR with their own personal funds, and not through their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a Redwood City, California-based limited liability company Zuckerberg and Chan control and funded with a pledged $45 billion investment from Facebook stock they own. (In 2020 Forbes Magazine estimated Zuckerberg’s net worth at $97 billion.)

“The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015 to leverage technology, community-driven solutions and collaboration to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges. Our mission is to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone,” the organization’s website says.

Former Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe served as CZI head of policy and advocacy from 2017 until October 2019, when he “stepp[ed] back from day-to-day operations into a new part-time role as a strategist in residence to help guide the organization’s ongoing issues-based policy work. David has decided to make this transition in part to make time for non-CZI endeavors,” according to a CZI statement released at the time.

A spokesperson for CZI told Breitbart News on Wednesday Plouffe continues to serve in a part-time role as strategist in residence.

Plouffe is the author of Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump, a book published by Viking in March 2020. In that book, Plouffe highlights the importance of GOTV efforts in beating President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election in this analysis of the 2016 presidential election:

Overall the Clinton and Trump campaigns had made smart, data-and-model-informed decisions about whom to target for persuasion and GOTV. It’s likely that Clinton’s models were too confident about the turnout from some younger voters and African American voters, core members of the Obama coalition that she inherited. And they overestimated support levels in rural and exurban areas, losing counties 70 to 30 that they thought would be 60 to 40 or even 50-50.

If they had known this at the time, the Clinton campaign could have increased contact with some younger voters and African American voters in the upper Midwest, and with more urgency. They also could have invested in more persuasion work with rural and exurban voter targets.

The lesson: we can’t rely just on models, and we can’t blame the models. We also have to have campaign strategies in place that address all likely scenarios. In 2020, it would be nice if the final models show Trump with a 0 percent chance of winning. That’s not going to be the case. To win, our GOTV operation, utterly dependent on volunteers, will need to start with a deadly accurate sense of which voters the campaign and the volunteers should concentrate on, and then be deadly efficient in carrying out the operation. (emphasis added)

Breitbart News asked CZI and representatives of the Zuckerberg Chan family office what influence Plouffe had on the decision by Zuckerberg to contribute $350 million to the CTCL “safe elections” project.

“Did you ask Mr. Plouffe, Mr. Zuckerberg, or Ms. Chan if Mr. Plouffe, in either his official capacity with CZI, or on a personal basis, ever advised or influenced Mr. Zuckerberg or Ms. Chan on whether they should make this personal donation of $350 million to the Center for Technology and Civic Life?” Breitbart News asked CZI.

“That’s a question for Ben LaBolt as we just weren’t involved in this contribution,” a CZI spokesperson responded.

LaBolt is spokesperson for the Zuckerberg Chan family office, West Street. LaBolt, like Plouffe, also has a strong Obama connection, having served as a former press secretary for the 2012 Obama campaign.

Breitbart News also posed that question about what role (if any) Plouffe may have played in Zuckerberg and Chan’s decision to donate $350 million to CTCL and $50 million to CEIR to LaBolt, but has received no response.

Executives at the CTCL, a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in Chicago, founded in 2015 by Tiana Epps-Johnson, who served from 2012 to 2015 as the election administration director for the New Organizing Institute, a progressive non-profit the Washington Post referred to in 2014 as “the Democratic Party’s Hogwarts for digital wizardry,” say they are just trying to help overwhelm election commissions around the country and have no preference for big city Democrats over rural Republicans:

If 2020 had been a typical election year, a County Clerk would have asked a team of CTCL staff to huddle up in a rural county courthouse to help the Clerk build a new election website. A state association of election officials would have invited us to their annual summer conference to lead a session on a topic like poll worker management or election cybersecurity best practices. If we were lucky, there would have been a lip sync contest.

But this hasn’t been a typical election year for us, or for election officials.

The COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic continues to impact every aspect of American civic life, especially the administration of safe elections. While experts estimate it will take ~$4 billion in funding to successfully administer 2020 elections, Congress has allocated $400 million to date. Sadly, election officials are not only facing unprecedented operational and budget challenges in 2020, but they are also dealing with unprecedented personal attacks and death threats that are prompting some election officials to step down.

Election officials make democracy happen. Through our work at the Center for Tech and Civic Life, we are grateful to witness the incredible public service of our country’s election official’s year round. (emphasis added)

An analysis by the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society suggests a far different story. Since September 1, 2020, the CTCL has made at least $63.7 million in grants to election commissions in 18 counties and two cities for what the CTCL calls the coronavirus “safe elections” project.

More than 99.5 percent of this funding — $63.4 million — went to election commissions in 17 counties and two cities won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Less than one half of one percent of the funding — a mere $289,000 — went to a county Donald Trump won in 2016, Hays County, Texas, which the president barely won by a margin of 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent.

A significant portion of these grants — more than $13.9 million — went to election commissions in areas Hillary Clinton won with more than 80 percent of the vote. Ten million dollars went to the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, which Clinton won with 84 percent of the vote, $3.5 million went to Wayne County, Michigan, which Clinton won with 96 percent of the vote, and $467,000 went to the election commission in the city of Flint, Michigan, which Clinton won with 84 percent of the vote.

20 Recipients of CTCL Grants

County

CTCL Grant

Clinton

Trump

D/R

Dallas County, TX

$15,130,433

60.22%

30.44%

D
Philadelphia, PA

$10,000,000

84.30%

15.32%

D
Harris County, TX

$9,600,000

56.45%

43.55%

D
Fulton, GA

$6,000,000

68.89%

27.40%

D
Cobb, GA

$5,600,000

48.89%

46.69%

D
Flint, MI

$467,625

84.43%

15.57%

D
Wayne County, MI

$3,512,000

96.83%

2.18%

D
Delaware, PA

$2,200,000

65%

35%

D
Bexar, TX

$1,900,000

54.19%

40.76%

D
Cameroon, TX

$1,800,000

64.60%

32.10%

D
Hinds, MS

$1,500,000

71.39%

26.69%

D
Allegheny County, PA

$2,052,251

56.40%

40.00%

D
Centre, PA

$863,828

48.71%

46.32%

D
Richland, SC

$730,000

64.01%

31.10%

D
Charleston, SC

$695,000

50.64%

42.78%

D
Lucas, OH

$544,624

56.10%

38.32%

D
Hays, TX

$289,000

49.50%

50.40%

R
Onondaga, NY

$286,960

53.89%

40.13%

D
Scott, IA

$286,870

47.50%

46%

D
Blackhawk, IA

$267,500

50.60%

43.30%

D
Total Grants:

$63,726,091

61.63%

34.70%

Breitbart News contacted the CTCL on Tuesday and asked if they could confirm the grant data provided by the Amistad Project.

A spokesperson for the CTCL responded to Breitbart News, but did not directly address our question.

“All local election offices responsible for administering election activities covered by the CTCL COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] Response grant program are eligible to apply for grant funds. Every eligible election department that is verified as legitimate will be approved for a grant. The minimum CTCL COVID-19 Response Grant amount awarded is $5,000,” the CTCL spokesman responded in an email, adding that more information could be found at this link on the organization’s website:

We’ve heard repeatedly about the desperate need for election administration funding. We’ve heard this from countless election officials, from across the political spectrum, geographic boundaries, and jurisdiction sizes. The COVID-19 pandemic brings unprecedented challenges that most election budgets aren’t equipped to handle.

That’s why we recently launched our CTCL COVID-19 Response Grant Program. It provides funding to U.S. local election offices to help ensure they have the critical resources they need to safely serve every voter in 2020. The grant program is an open call to every local election office in the country, and we’re thrilled to announce we’ve received over 2,100 applications (and counting!).

The program has been so well received that we extended the application deadline. All U.S. local election offices that have not previously applied are invited to apply by Thursday, October 15th.

All local election offices responsible for administering election activities covered by the CTCL COVID-19 Response grant program are eligible to apply for grant funds. Every eligible election department that is verified as legitimate will be approved for a grant. The minimum CTCL COVID-19 Response Grant amount awarded is $5,000.

Breitbart News asked CTCL again on Wednesday for a specific breakdown of grant recipients, as well as total funding awarded as of October 14, but has not yet received a response.

As a 501(c)(3), CTCL is required to provide that grant breakdown in 990 forms filed for 2020 with the IRS, but the filing requirement deadline for the submission of those forms is not until May 2021. From its founding in 2015 until 2019, CTCL’s annual budgets were under $2 million annually until the huge donations from Zuckerberg and his wife, according to the organization’s 990 reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Pouring Zuckerberg-funded CTCL money into election administration activities in heavily Democratic districts Hillary Clinton won in key battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in 2016, while spending sparsely on election administration activities in other areas of those states won by Trump, could easily tip the balance in the 2020 presidential contest between Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden in states where Trump’s 2016 margin of victory was so narrow — 11,000 votes in Michigan, 27,000 votes in Wisconsin, and 68,000 votes in Pennsylvania.

In Philadelphia, for instance, the successful $10 million CTCL grant application was “spearheaded” by City Commissioner Chairwoman Lisa Deeley, a Democrat elected official.

“If approved, we will be able to move forward in implementing plans to process applications and ballots more quickly, and we will be able to open a sufficient number of polling places throughout the city. Additionally, we will have the opportunity to set up a considerable number of satellite election offices throughout the city, and recruit and train an adequate, realistic number of poll workers, along with the ability to provide these essential Election Day board workers with ample PPE,” Deeley told the Office of the Philadelphia City Commissioners, the three person elected body responsible for administering elections in the city which she chairs, at the meeting where the grant was accepted.

In addition to ensuring a total of 800 polling places will be open on election day, the CTCL grant of $10 million for “safe elections” in Philadelphia is dedicated to the following uses this election cycle:

  • Mail-in and absentee and processing equipment — upgrade equipment for processing applications and ballots ($5,500,554)
  • 17 satellite election offices for in-person mail-in voting ($2,272,220)
  • In-person voting at polling places on election day ($1,321,300)
  • Secure drop boxes and related needs ($552,000)
  • Printing and postage costs to inform and educate voters about options for voting  ($370,000)

“Government using private money to target a demographic to turn out the vote is the opposite side of the same coin as targeting a demographic to suppress the vote,” Phill Kline, director of the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society, told Breitbart News.

“This privatization of elections invites the monies and powerful to stuff the umpires pocket with cash before they call the first ball or strike,” Kline added.

Local organizations in four battleground states (Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), with the assistance of the the Amistad Project, filed lawsuits in federal court against CTCL in September, arguing that the funds are “intended to use government employees to influence the outcome of the presidential election on November 3”:

The Complaint claims that the use of the funds violates a federal law known as the Help America Vote Act, which prohibits local governments from accepting private federal election grants without state legislative approval and results in government playing favorites in the election process.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled against the local voters group that asked the court to rule five cities in the state could not accept more than $6 million in grants from the CTCL. (Note: These five CTCL grants are in addition to the twenty CTCL grants listed in the exhibit above.)

The Amistad Project’s website, got-freedom.com, provides additional details on the organization’s activities in support of voters in Texas, California, and several other states.

The Texan reported earlier this month that “A federal lawsuit seeks to block more than $25 million in private grants targeting elections in heavily Democrat counties in Texas. Plaintiffs say the grants create an illegal public-private partnership and promote progressive candidates”:

A group of voters have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block unregulated private grants awarded to elections administrations in several Texas counties.

The target of the lawsuit and petition for injunction is the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), a non-profit organization based in Chicago and heavily funded by Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan with the purpose of helping local officials to provide “safe” elections under COVID-19 conditions.

Dallas and Harris counties have accepted grants of $15.1 million and $9.6 million respectively from CTCL, although some elected officials have expressed concern over the grants, with Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch (R) calling the grant a “thinly veiled” get-out-the-vote effort for Democrats.

Both Hays and Hopkins counties have also received grants of $298,000 and $19,952, bringing the total injected into Texas elections to more than $25 million.

In Iowa, local voters filed a federal lawsuit against the CTCL focusing on Scott County, whose largest city is the Democrat stronghold of Davenport, and Blackhawk County. Donald Trump won Iowa in 2016, but Hillary Clinton won both Scott County and Blackhawk County.

Other organizations that are partnering with or providing financial support to the CTCL include Google, Facebook, the Center for Democracy and Technology (a progressive organization), Rock the Vote, the Women Donors Network (a progressive organization), and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (a progressive organization).

The CEIR was much more forthcoming than the CTCL about who is receiving grants from the original $50 million grant provided by Zuckerberg and Chan.

“We invited all 50 states and DC to apply for grants for the purpose of educating voters about election rules and process. 24 states applied, the amount of the grant requested was solely at the states’ discretion, and we awarded the full amount of every state’s application (which exceeded $50 million – Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg contributed additional amounts to allow for all grants to be fulfilled),” David J. Becker, executive director and founder of the CEIR, told Breitbart News in an emailed statement sent on Thursday:

One state, Louisiana, wasn’t able to receive the grant under state law, but we awarded the requested grants to the other 23 states (full list below). Those states represent a bipartisan group, with Democratic Secretaries of State in 10 states, Republican Secretaries of State in 8 states, and 5 states with bipartisan or nonpartisan boards of election.

The list of states that applied for and received grants includes: AZ, CT, DC, FL, GA, IL, IA, KY, MD, MA, MI, MN, MO, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, PA, RI, SC, VT, and SC.

Most of the grant funding has been delivered, and we expect the entire awards will be delivered to all states by early next week.

If you’d like to reach out to one of the grant recipients about this, I’m fairly certain the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, which received a large grant, would be happy to discuss it. You could reach out to Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs there, who’s most familiar with the grant process.

CEIR’s transparency and rapid response may explain why the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society has focused its litigation on the $350 million Zuckerberg and Chan contribution to CTCL, rather than the $50 million plus contribution the couple made to CEIR.

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