Millions in Mark Zuckerberg-financed election grants to Democratic-leaning South Florida counties made last year will likely carry over to the 2022 election, when Gov. Ron DeSantis is on the ballot for reelection.
Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and his wife Priscilla Chan bankrolled $350 million for Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) grants to jurisdictions with the stated purpose of making elections safer during the COVID-19 pandemic. At least two major jurisdictions have not spent all the money and will be using it for future elections, according to an analysis by Public Interest Legal Foundation, a government watchdog group.
Palm Beach County got one of the largest grants for the state, $6.8 million. Most of the election equipment in the county’s wish list was purchased with the funding, but some of the cash was not spent, said Wendy Sartory Link, Palm Beach County supervisor of elections.
“Our original understanding of the grant was that it had to be used for 2020, so we didn’t spend all of the money,” Link told Fox News.
“We are now getting permission from CTCL to complete the purchases. So, to answer your question, some of it would be for 2021, 2022, because some of that equipment, we weren’t able to get in time — whether it’s equipment or the firewall, some of the security, or IT security programs, didn’t get implemented,” Link continued.
“We knew we weren’t going to have time to get them in as it turned out for 2020. So we didn’t purchase them because we wanted to make sure we stayed within the definition of the grant, which at the time was for 2020. We have since gotten permission for those now, so they are in that process for some of the equipment and some of the IT programs.”
The Public Interest Legal Foundation will release a full report on Florida in May, but initial data shows that the CTCL funds were heavily concentrated in South Florida counties, and came in September and October.
The Florida legislature is mulling an election reform bill that includes a provision to ban local governments from accepting money from private entities for election administration. The states of Georgia and Arizona, traditionally red states that Joe Biden carried in 2020, already passed similar bans on private money this year. Donald Trump carried Florida in 2020.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill this week. (AP)
The Palm Beach County grant came on Sept. 30, a bit more than a month before the November election. The legal foundation did not obtain how much unspent money Palm Beach had from 2020, and the county did not provide the exact number for leftover money to Fox News as of late Wednesday.
Miami-Dade County got an approved grant for $2.4 million on Oct. 15 and didn’t spend any of it for 2020. In a Jan. 20 application for a grant extension, Miami-Dade County stated it did not spend any of its grant money, according to documents obtained by the legal foundation. A Feb. 4 email from the CTCL to the Miami-Dade elections office approved a six-month extension to the grant.
“Some counties didn’t spend effectively any of their funds in 2020. These Zuckerbucks will be targeted to try to defeat DeSantis in 2022,” J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), told Fox News.
DeSantis, a Republican, and GOP Sen. Marco Rubio both face reelection contests in 2022. Both have been mentioned as potential presidential contenders in 2024.
Broward County got a total of $1.4 million – the last of which came in as a $749,971 grant on Sept. 29, but all of the money was spent, according to data from PILF.
Florida was not the epicenter for grants that made an impact — as grants to Arizona and Pennsylvania came in earlier and likely drove up Democratic voting, Adams said.
“This was the single biggest issue that altered the 2020 election,” Adams said. “These grants were used for what was effectively a get-out the-vote drive in heavily Democratic areas. That’s the reason the election turned out as it did. It wasn’t the Kraken.”
Based on preliminary numbers, the CTCL gave at least $13.2 million to Florida jurisdictions, according to PILF. Grants to other Florida counties included $1.4 million for Leon, $850,000 for Brevard, $707,606 for Alachua, $109,404 for Osceola, and $69,564 to Wakulla County.
The CTCL money went to 49 states across 2,500 jurisdictions for election administration to pay for additional polling places, ballot drop boxes, “voter education” and other matters amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CTCL did not respond to inquiries from Fox News for this story, but in a statement for a previous story it said that the organization is nonpartisan and the grants did not favor either party.
“All local election offices responsible for administering election activities covered by the CTCL COVID-19 Response grant program were eligible to apply for grant funds,” read the previous CTCL statement to Fox News.
The center has roots in the Democratic Party. Iy was founded in 2012 by Tiana Epps-Johnson – the group’s executive director – Donny Bridges and Whitney May. The three previously had worked together at the New Organizing Institute, a Democratic-aligned digital strategy firm. Epps-Johnson is a former Obama Foundation fellow.
“In Texas, for example, the facts were clear: 117 election departments across the state of Texas have requested and received CTCL COVID-19 Response Grants, including 98 in jurisdictions that voted for Donald Trump in 2016,” the CTCL statement continued. “Over half of all grants nationwide went to election departments that serve fewer than 25,000 registered voters.”
In late March, the Public Interest Legal Foundation released a report examining the organization’s $36 million in grants to Texas jurisdictions, that determined the money went disproportionately to blue counties. The analysis concluded that if the Texas election was limited only to jurisdictions getting CTCL grants, Biden would have carried the state by about 270,000 votes.
While the bulk of the money to the Center for Tech and Civic Life came from Zuckerberg and Chan, other major donors have included the mostly left-of-center organizations such as the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, according to the Capital Research Center.