The Wisconsin “Zuckerbucks” Problem: New Data Reveals Private Funding of Election Offices Was More Widespread Than Initially Estimated

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KEY FINDINGS

Overview

During the 2020 presidential election, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative—led by tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and his wife—donated more than $400 million to local election offices in 47 states under the guise of alleviating the burden of COVID-19-related costs.1 The bulk of these funds were funneled through the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a left-leaning non-profit with significant ties to various progressive groups and the Obama administration.2-3

While marketed as “COVID-19 Response Grants,” in many states, these funds (or “Zuckerbucks”) appeared to have little to do with offsetting pandemic-related expenses.4 Instead, the infusion of cash went toward boosting Democrat turnout in several swing states.5 In fact, grants were disproportionately siphoned to left-leaning jurisdictions.6 For example, in Pennsylvania, nine out of every 10 dollars that flowed into the state went to counties that voted for Biden.7 And in Georgia, Biden counties got nearly four times more Zuckerbucks per registered voter than Trump counties.8

Preliminary data showed that Wisconsin was no exception and that at least $9 million in Zuckerbucks were poured into the state.9 But new data has painted a more complete picture, revealing that Zuckerbucks were an even bigger problem than previously estimated.

New Data Reveals Even More Zuckerbucks in Wisconsin

CTCL’s Form 990 revealed that Zuckerbucks were an even greater threat, with more than $10 million flowing into the Badger State.10-11

In fact, Zuckerbucks flowed into 216 municipalities during the 2020 election, covering more than half of the state, with funds pouring into 39 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.12

Zuckerbucks Flowed Into Democrat Strongholds

The five most populous cities in Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Racine—received nearly $8.5 million of the more than $10 million in Zuckerbucks that were funneled into the state.14

These cities have traditionally been considered Democrat strongholds, resulting in more than 80 percent of the state’s Zuckerbucks flowing into heavily concentrated Democrat areas—with Biden winning by an average margin of victory of 37 points.15 Making matters worse, Milwaukee and Racine received a combined total of five separate grants from CTCL.16

Some Jurisdictions Did Not Spend Any Money on PPE

The leaders of the five most populous cities in Wisconsin claimed that without additional funding, they would be forced to decide between “health and the right to vote.”17 Despite this claim, only a fraction of the funds received was spent on PPE.18 In fact, Milwaukee spent less than six percent of its total grant on PPE.19

Meanwhile, some jurisdictions did not spend any money on PPE at all.20 For example, Brookfield spent all $14,090 of their grant on election administration equipment.21 And Menasha spent all their funds on absentee voting equipment and supplies.22 Green Bay spent less than one percent of their Zuckerbucks on PPE, and instead opted to purchase two new Ford trucks and pay a public relations firm nearly $150,000 for voter outreach.23

THE BOTTOM LINE: Wisconsin should prohibit outside money from financing elections.

The 2020 presidential election was proof positive that private funds infiltrating elections—no matter the amount—opens the door to outside influence that can impact the election and erode public trust. But fortunately, there is a way for Wisconsin to safeguard all future elections in the state. By prohibiting local governments from accepting private funding from individuals and third parties, Wisconsin can limit outside influence and restore public trust in elections.

Similar efforts are trending across the country. Indeed, 22 states, including nearby Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, and Nebraska have all passed reforms to secure their elections. Wisconsin can, and should, be the next state to safeguard their elections from outside influence.

REFERENCES

1. CEIR, “Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg increase support for safe and reliable voting by $19.5 million,” Center for Election Innovation & Research (2020), https://electioninnovation.org/press/chan-zuckerberg-increase-2020.election-support/.

2. CTCL, “Press release: CTCL receives additional $100M contribution to support critical work of election officials,” Center for Tech and Civic Life (2020), https://www.techandciviclife.org/100m/.

3. CTCL, “Tiana Epps-Johnson,” Center for Tech and Civic Life (2020), https://www.techandciviclife.org/team/tiana-epps-johnson/.

4. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook post, (2020), https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10112459455098901.FGA, “Zuckerbucks infiltrated the 2020 election: A cautionary warning for Louisiana,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2022), https://thefga.org/one-pagers/zuckerbucks-infiltrated-the-2020-election-a-cautionary.warning-for-louisiana/.

5. FGA, “Zuckerbucks infiltrated the 2020 election: A cautionary warning for Louisiana,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2022), https://thefga.org/one-pagers/zuckerbucks-infiltrated-the-2020-election-a.cautionary-warning-for-louisiana/.

6. Trevor Carlsen, “Show Me the Zuckerbucks: Outside money infiltrated Missouri’s 2020 election,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2021), https://thefga.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Missouri-Zuckerbucks-brief-3-9.22.pdf.

7. Trevor Carlsen and Hayden Dublois, “How ‘Zuckerbucks’ infiltrated and influenced the 2020 Pennsylvania election,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2020), https://thefga.org/wp.content/uploads/2021/03/PennsylvaniaZuckerbucks-brief-3-16-21.pdf.

8. Hayden Dublois and Tyler Lamensky, “Zuckerberg went down to Georgia: How Zuckerbucks influenced the Georgia elections,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2021), https://thefga.org/paper/zuckerbucks.influenced-georgia-elections/.

9. Alli Fick and Tyler Lamensky, “How Zuckerbucks infiltrated the Wisconsin election,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2021), https://thefga.org/paper/zuckerbucks-wisconsin-election/.

10. Grant reports obtained through public records requests received by the Foundation for Government Accountability.

11. Center for Tech and Civic Life, “Final report on 2020 COVID-19 response grant program and CTCL 990s,” Center for Tech and Civic Life (2021), https://www.techandciviclife.org/2020covidsupport/.

12. FGA data analysis of Center for Tech and Civic Life’s 990 obtained online and grant reports obtained through public records requests.

13. The cities of Green Bay and Milwaukee each received two grants, and the city of Racine received three grants. All other municipalities received one grant award.

14. Grant reports obtained through public records requests received by the Foundation for Government Accountability.

15. Mark Hemingway, “Team Zuckerberg masks the heavily pro-Democrat tilt of 2020 election ‘Zuck Bucks,’ study finds,” RealClear Investigations (2022), https://www.realclearinvestigations.com/articles/2022/06/07/team_zuckerberg_masks_the_heavily_pro.democrat_tilt_of_2020_election_zuck_bucks_study_finds_835470.html.

16. Ibid. 

17. Alli Fick and Tyler Lamensky, “How Zuckerbucks infiltrated the Wisconsin election,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2021), https://thefga.org/paper/zuckerbucks-wisconsin-election/.

18. Ibid. 

19. Ibid. 

20. Ibid. 

21. Ibid. 

22. Ibid. 

23. Ibid.