Congress needs to do more to avoid private funding in elections, lawmakers agree

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Republican House committee members argued Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg used large donations to mobilize Democratic voters in swing states during the 2020 general election Wednesday.

Multiple Republicans said they’d be willing to fund election administrations with taxpayer dollars, while prohibiting donations like those made with ‘Zuckerbucks,’ the term they used to refer to the private donations

Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan said the “one-time” donations to the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) were made to provide poll-worker training, protective equipment and to expand mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Republican committee members argued the money was funneled to Democrat-leaning districts more often than not, in an effort to mobilize voters.

“These funds were intended to support poll worker recruitment efforts or the purchase of new equipment,” House Committee on Administration Chair Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) said. “But in reality, some of these funds were used primarily for voter registration events and get-out-the-vote efforts in Democratic-leaning cities and towns.”

“Americans deserve to have confidence in their elections, which means elections should be free from undue private influence,”  Steil added.

Democratic members agreed with Republican colleagues that election administrations should be publicly funded, but argued GOP lawmakers’ specific focus on who the private funders were drew attention from the reason for the hearing — helping underfunded local election administrations.

“All of us can agree that no private funding should be funding our elections — it should be public funding,”  Rep. Teri Sewell (D-Ala.), said. “I really have no tolerance for the unrelenting assault perpetrated by the partisan and extreme organizations represented by today’s Republican witnesses,” Sewell said.

“When we are presented with hearings like this, with these types of witnesses, it really puts into question the leadership of this committee, and where we are going, and our mutual goal to try and get things done for the American people,” Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said.  

“It would be unnecessary for philanthropic organizations to contribute to elections if there was adequate funding,” Ranking Member Rep. Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.) said.

There are over 8,000 local election jurisdictions in the United States, all of which derive their funds from local sources, according to Zachary Mohr, associate professor at the University of Kansas.

Through auditing these jurisdictions, the University of Kansas estimates these local election administrations shoulder a collective $2 billion in cost to operate, Mohr said. 

“I really think that with states banning private funding, which there may be valid reasons for that, but if that’s going to be the case, elections administration has been underfunded for years, now it is getting critically underfunded because it doesn’t have the resources it needs – we need the federal government to step in here,” Mohr said.

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