Another Dark Money Plan to ‘Protect’ Elections

The New York Times reported recently that a Democratic group is starting a nonprofit that plans to spend $10 million to “protect” election officials, who are said to have faced “increased threats in recent years” and who have been “resigning at an alarming rate.”

You would think local law enforcement agencies, and maybe even the FBI, would be investigating these threats and taking action to protect election officials.

If that’s not happening, then maybe there’s another reason that “threats” are cited in a story about a nonprofit group raising $10 million for next year’s election.

The new group is called Value the Vote, and it’s a 501(c)(4) nonprofit under the IRS code. Value the Vote was started by the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, which exists to help Democrats get elected to the job responsible for oversight and administration of state and local elections. DASS spent $30 million on the midterms last year.

Value the Vote plans to “initially focus on five battleground states,” The New York Times reported, specifically, “Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada and Wisconsin.”

What is the group planning to do in these states that are considered critical to the outcome of the next presidential election? “The group will look to counter election misinformation,” the Times reported, “including with paid digital advertising, and will begin a voter registration program” that will be “focusing heavily on Black and Latino communities, which have tended to back Democrats in greater numbers.”

The technical name for this is “campaign spending.”

However, campaign spending is highly regulated by the Federal Election Commission and various state agencies. Campaign committees and political parties must report every donation along with the name, address, occupation and employer of the donor, and there are strict limits on how much an individual donor may contribute.

It’s different for nonprofits. They can accept donations without the limits and disclosures required of political campaign committees, but the degree of their engagement in political campaigns is limited by federal law. According to the Internal Revenue Service, a 501(c)(4) “may engage in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office provided that such intervention does not constitute the organization’s primary activity.”

But what is the “primary activity” of Value the Vote if not to go into key battleground states ahead of the 2024 election and intervene in the election? The group will be paying for voter registration of Democratic-leaning groups and digital advertising to combat “misinformation” as they define it.

Even if the IRS chooses to leave Value the Vote alone and never investigates how it’s raising or spending its money, the group could face legal trouble in the states. Twenty-five of them have passed laws banning or restricting the use of private financing in public elections.

The list includes two of the five “battleground” states on Value the Vote’s things-to-do list: Georgia and Arizona. A third state on the list, North Carolina, has a bill in the legislature that would ban election officials from accepting outside funding.

The landslide of legislation stems from one of the curious things that happened ahead of the 2020 election, along with the government’s determination that a novel virus spreads at polling places but not at protest marches. There was an unprecedented infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars from nonprofit organizations into election administration all around the country.

The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, a 501(c)(3) that under the Internal Revenue Code is “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” pumped about $350 million into the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life to be pushed out in “election grants.”

The Chicago-based CTCL  was founded in 2012 by three individuals who worked together at the New Organizing Institute, described by Influence Watch as “a major training center for left-of-center digital activists” and by a Washington Post reporter as “the Democratic Party’s Hogwarts for digital wizardry.” Several board members of the CTCL, according to Influence Watch, have “strong ties to Democratic political operations.”

In December 2020, NPR published an article headlined, “How Private Money From Facebook’s CEO Saved The 2020 Election.” It quoted Bill Turner, an election official in Chester County, Pennsylvania, who said the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative’s money was essential to preventing an “election meltdown” because Congress didn’t provide enough funding for such things as drop boxes and new equipment to process mail ballots. The CTCL gave Chester County $2.5 million from the funding provided by Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation. That was more than the county’s entire 2020 budget for voting services. Chester County, NPR notes, is “one of several large suburban counties that ring Philadelphia — once-Republican strongholds that have shifted in Democrats’ favor in recent years.” Hillary Clinton did well there in 2016, but Joe Biden did nearly twice as well in 2020.

Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission member, called Zuckerberg’s flood of money “a carefully orchestrated attempt to convert official government election offices into get-out-the-vote operations for one political party and to insert political operatives into election offices in order to influence and manipulate the outcome of the election.”

A lot of state lawmakers agreed with that assessment, which is why 25 states now have laws banning or limiting the use of money from private groups in election administration.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register