A nonprofit group funded largely by Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan that helped municipalities absorb the extra cost of administering the 2020 elections imposed by the coronavirus awarded more grants to Republican jurisdictions won by former President Donald Trump than Democratic communities that supported President Joe Biden.
At the time Zuckerberg and Chan’s ultimately $350 million in contributions to the Center for Tech and Civic Life were publicized, conservative critics derided the money as “Zuckerbucks” and charged that the donations were an attempt by the Facebook founder to manipulate the election for Democrats. Sensitive to the criticism, Zuckerberg and Chan tapped prominent Republican election lawyer Michael Toner to review the grants CTCL awarded last year to counties and other jurisdictions across the country.
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Toner, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, and his team of lawyers at the Washington firm Wiley Rein discovered that more Republican jurisdictions, defined as municipalities that voted for Trump in 2020, applied for and received grants from CTCL. However, because urban counties, typically the most populous municipalities in the United States, mostly supported Biden, the majority of the cash value of all 2,500 grants awarded went to Democratic communities.
Information about CTCL operations and its donations were made public Wednesday through the 501(c)(3) organization’s scheduled filing with the IRS. The review of the grants to counties and other jurisdictions in charge of administering elections conducted by Toner was commissioned by Zuckerberg and Chan personally, not Facebook, whose corporate name is now Meta. No additional report of CTCL’s donations was expected to be issued beyond the group’s IRS filing.
“When our nation’s election infrastructure faced unprecedented challenges last year due to the pandemic and the federal government failed to provide adequate funds, Mark and Priscilla provided funding to two nonpartisan organizations that helped local jurisdictions and states ensure that residents could vote regardless of their party or preference,” Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Zuckerberg and Chan, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.
Zuckerberg and Chan also helped finance a second group, the Center for Election Innovation and Research, to the tune of $69.5 million in personal funds. That organization was dedicated to supporting secretaries of state as they navigated COVID-19, which led to a spike in mail-in voting and forced states, counties, and other jurisdictions to address and mitigate the unusual challenges to administering elections caused by the pandemic.
But it was CTCL that seemed to spark the most suspicion, particularly on the Right and especially among Trump supporters who opposed the broad adoption of mail-in voting and nontraditional methods for casting ballots. The former president insisted in-person voting was the only way to ensure a free and fair election. He lost to Biden and continues to insist the contest was stolen, although no evidence of the claim has been uncovered.
LaBolt emphasized that CTCL, founded in 2015, and not by Zuckerberg and Chan, had a bipartisan board that “issued an open call to state and local jurisdictions across the country and provided funding for all jurisdictions that applied.” The minimum grant awarded to any community was $5,000.
“While Mark and Priscilla provided a portion of the overall grant funding to CTCL, they did not determine which jurisdictions received funds nor did they determine how much each jurisdiction received,” explained LaBolt, who cut his teeth in politics as a Democratic campaign operative, including for former President Barack Obama.
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Still, the apparent myth that developed around CTCL and Zuckerberg and Chan’s involvement with the group was bothersome enough that the couple retained Toner to review the grants awarded in 2020 and sought additional help from Brian Baker, a top Republican strategist in Washington.
Baker, who is advising Zuckerberg and Chan as a contract consultant, has relationships with key players across the GOP.