FIRST ON FOX: A Georgia elections board may have violated state law when it accepted $2 million from a Mark Zuckerberg-linked group, a watchdog group claimed in a letter obtained by Fox News Digital.
The Honest Elections Project is calling for an investigation into the DeKalb County Board of Registration and Elections for a “flagrant and egregious” violation of a state ban on private funding that was put in place after accusations that donors used money to push left-wing influence ahead of the 2020 elections.
The funding in question originated from the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, the project said in a letter last week calling for a probe by the state attorney general, secretary of state and state elections board.
“We’re now fairly well convinced this is an attempt to do two things,” Honest Elections Project Executive Director Jason Snead told Fox News Digital. “To get around those bans on private funding by doing either what they did in DeKalb County, by looking for loopholes and end-a rounds, doing what they can to get money into these offices; or by doing what I think they feel is even more important work, which is to pump influence into these offices.”
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The letter outlines how in the lead-up to the 2020 election, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) received a $250 million donation from Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan for programs to provide grants to local election boards across the country. That funding came with the stated goal of helping jurisdictions deal with the coronavirus pandemic by providing ballot drop boxes, voting equipment, additional manpower, protective gear for poll workers and public education campaigns on new voting methods, among other expenses.
“This massive influx of funding – which ultimately topped $400 million – was met with heavy criticism driven by post-election analysis that revealed the money was overwhelmingly funneled to Democrat-leaning jurisdictions,” the letter stated. “Criticism that CTCL does not deny.”
Georgia was one of dozens of states that sought to ban outside groups from funneling money to election boards and possibly peddling influence. Part of Georgia’s 2021 reform law “banned election offices from receiving funding from outside groups.”
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“No superintendent shall take or accept any funding, grants, or gifts from any source other than from the governing authority of the county or municipality, the State of Georgia, or the federal government,” the law states.
A spokesperson for Zuckerberg said in 2022 that the Facebook founder didn’t have plans on injecting cash into future elections – calling the grant a “one-time donation given the unprecedented nature of the crisis.”
However, the Honest Elections Project released a report earlier this year that described the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, the CTCL coalition that funneled the money to DeKalb County, as “merely a continuation” of CTCL’s so-called “Zuck Bucks scheme,” a term critics use to describe the private funding of elections by left-wing donors in 2020.
“They are trying to gather data and reshape the way these offices function so that they essentially become left-wing outposts for progressive voting reform,” Snead told Fox News Digital. “All of what they do is a ruse in order to get into these offices and accomplish that goal.”
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DeKalb County officials and supporters of the funding argue that the money was accepted by the county government as opposed to the elections board.
When criticized earlier this month by former Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s group, Greater Georgia, a state election official responded by saying that “partisan accusations do not reflect an accurate reading of state law and undermine the work of already overburdened, underpaid public servants.”
“The DeKalb County Finance Department applied for the grant in accordance with state law, and our county attorneys conducted a diligent review to ensure the grant award met the letter of the law,” DeKalb Elections Board Chairwoman Dele Lowman Smith, a Democrat, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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Lowman Smith did not respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital regarding the Honest Elections Project letter.
“Clearly, what the Georgia legislature did when they passed the law that we’re talking about was an attempt to restrict counties from getting involved with private funders of elections and here we’ve got one that was clearly doing that,” Snead said.
The DeKalb County Finance Office made the application to join the U.S. Election Alliance “early last year,” Snead said. This showed that “even before the alliance was online” the county had “already figured out” that if there was going to be an opportunity to continue receiving funds from progressive groups, they already knew how to “get around the law.”
“This is what we think we need investigations for,” Snead said.
“As the Election Board has recognized, ‘fair, legal, and orderly elections’ are the touchstone to America’s democratic process,” the letter from Honest Elections Project concludes. “Those responsible for administering elections should zealously guard these principles. That is what makes DeKalb County’s brazen disregard for Georgia’s election laws so troubling.
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“The Election Board has a duty to investigate and correct these actions and demonstrate its commitment to preserving ‘the highest standards of integrity’ in ‘all matters related to the election process.'”
Fox News Digital reached out to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office but did not receive a response.
A bill, S.B. 222, was introduced in the Georgia General Assembly earlier this week aimed at closing any loopholes that could be exploiting gaps in the Georgia law.
“What’s happening right now in Georgia is crystal clear: ideological groups and certain counties are testing our resolve to enforce state law, while attempting to influence local elections,” Loeffler said in a statement.
“Thankfully, Lt. Governor Burt Jones and our lawmakers have taken swift action to fortify existing laws that ban outside funding for local boards of election through SB 202, which will ensure that our elections are never bought and paid for by special or partisan interests,” the statement said.
“Greater Georgia is proud to endorse the legislation, and calls for its urgent passage by members of the Georgia General Assembly.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement to Fox News Digital that he has asked the legislature to close the loophole and suggested S.B. 202 would do just that.
“It was the will of the General Assembly that if outside organizations wanted to help supply funding for counties, it would actually be channeled through the state election board so that it could then disburse the funds on an equitable basis,” Raffensperger said. “It would be a legislative remedy. We are in session now, so it is something they can address pretty quickly.”
A spokesperson for Raffensperger’s office also told Fox News Digital on Thursday afternoon that there is “an active investigation at the direction of the State Elections Board.”
The Georgia State Election Board also confirmed that an investigator has been assigned to two different complaints but could not comment further since the investigation is pending.
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