Guest Commentary / September 9, 2020

Mark Zuckerberg Should Not Be Able to Buy Local Government to Slant This Election

Can you imagine if a right-wing billionaire gave hundreds of millions of dollars to open additional polling places in districts Donald Trump won by overwhelming margins?

By Phill Kline

Can you imagine if a right-wing billionaire gave hundreds of millions of dollars to open additional polling places in districts Donald Trump won by overwhelming margins? What if, in this scenario, that billionaire were being allowed to do that by directly paying local governments to do what he wanted, and was even allowed to deduct the money he spent from his taxes — something he wouldn’t have been able to do if he bought political advertising or funded a third-party candidate?

It would be the biggest political scandal of the election. It would be on the cover of every newspaper and the first thing to come out of the mouth of every Democrat who appeared on television. It would never be allowed to stand.

In reality, the third-richest man in America is doing exactly the reverse of that, and hardly anyone is batting an eyelid.

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, just made a $250 million donation to a group with deep ties to Democratic politicians and left-leaning philanthropy networks called the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), multiplying the organization’s budget overnight. Despite its ostensibly nonpartisan goals, CTCL’s projects have one clearly discernible goal: boosting turnout in overwhelmingly Democratic districts and increasing the number of low-propensity, left-leaning voters who turn out to the polls.

Some of CTCL’s sister organizations, such as Rock the Vote, are more explicit in their partisan aims. That group’s president reacted to President Trump’s 2016 election by saying it was a letdown for young voters “who voted overwhelmingly for Secretary Clinton and progressive candidates down the ticket,” but that he was nonetheless encouraged that “our country has been moving steadily in a progressive direction – led largely by diverse and tolerant Millennials across the country – on issues of marriage equality, criminal justice, economic opportunity and environmental protection.”

Using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext, CTCL is directly supporting the Democrats’ campaign to dramatically liberalize voting procedures and facilitate efforts by state and local officials to get as many mail-in ballots in circulation as possible before the 2020 election.

It is beyond dispute that the practical effect of any such effort will be more Democratic votes and relatively fewer Republican ones. Poll after poll shows that people who will not make the effort to come down to a polling station and vote the traditional way are dramatically more likely to vote for Joe Biden. The effect is so profound that even a “top Democratic data and analytics firm” is predicting it could lead to an apparent Trump landslide on Election Night that will then be overcome as Biden mail-in ballots are counted in the following days.

Democrats’ efforts to institute universal mail-in voting — where ballots are mailed to every voter in a state whether they request one or not — as well as institute “ballot harvesting” and establish looser rules under which mail-in votes can be accepted even days after Election Day cannot be seen as merely neutral public health measures in this context. Neither can the tens of millions of dollars that groups like CTCL are handing to local governments.

CTCL’s specific programs — only a small portion of which support in-person voting — are even more troubling than the mail-in voting issue on its own. Even a cursory glance at where they’re sending the money so far reveals their true purpose: boosting Democratic, and not Republican, turnout. The $16.3 million they’ve spent on these efforts so far went entirely to six cities that, in aggregate, voted 82% for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

This is not a nonpartisan “get out the vote” campaign. It is not merely about boosting turnout and encouraging participation in our democracy. It is an attempt to tilt the election. Local governments that cooperate with these groups are violating their duty of neutrality in elections, and a billionaire like Mark Zuckerberg bankrolling this tax-free — and so far without serious scrutiny — is a serious shortcoming. That all involved are doing so under the guise of combatting COVID-19 makes the whole affair even more misleading.

Groups like mine, the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society, are taking the situation very seriously and are considering whether this kind of targeted funding is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. There is a long and sordid history in this country of favoring certain voters over others. This latest chapter in that history deserves every bit as much scrutiny as the earlier ones.

Phill Kline is the Former Kansas Attorney General. He currently serves as Pulpit Pastor of Amherst Baptist Church, a law school professor, and director of the Amistad Project of The Thomas More Society. Previously, he served as president of the Midwest Association of Attorneys General, was on the Executive Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General, and was co-chairperson of the Violent Sexual Predator Apprehension Task Force. He was a Kansas House member for eight years where he chaired the Appropriations Committee and the Taxation Committee and authored victims rights laws and welfare reform.

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