WATERTOWN — It’s intriguing to watch Republicans grow frantic over the scourge of “dark money.”
Democrats normally throw this term around in describing the unregulated funds used by private citizens to pay for various political and social causes. And what drives Democrats absolutely bonkers is the fact that the government can’t — and shouldn’t — control this spending because it’s speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
So when members of the GOP join Democrats in behaving like nanny staters, it catches my attention. A recent tweet by U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, who serves New York’s 22nd Congressional District, indicated she’s been successfully recruited. On Monday, she posted this comment on Twitter:
“Zuckerbucks should be permanently banned from American elections. Our elections aren’t for sale and outside influence operations like this undermine the democratic process. I’ll be introducing legislation soon to fight back against this corrupt practice.”
Tenney was responding to news that Texas became the latest state to limit how much money private organizations can offer government authorities to assist them in conducting elections. This apparently didn’t become a problem for Texas Republicans until last year when it helped increase voter turnout in predominantly Democratic areas.
These funds are called Zuckerbucks because Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated about $400 million to be used nationwide in expanding voting opportunities last year during the novel coronavirus pandemic. About $350 million of this money went to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a Chicago-based group that works to enhance voter engagement.
In her tweet, Tenney linked to an article published June 18 by TheDailySignal.com. Overseen by The Heritage Foundation, this website features news stories and commentary on political and policy issues.
The article written by Fred Lucas reported that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law June 12. The title of the piece, “How Zuckerberg Money Could Have Led to Biden Victory in Texas,” betrays why Republicans are worried about election boards receiving help to implement measures that expand voter opportunities.
Members of the Texas GOP have been wringing their hands over the notion that procedures carried out in the midst of a health care crisis actually expanded voter turnout. You would expect them as public officials to cheer such an achievement. Far too few Americans vote, so it’s good when election boards find ways to encourage more people to participate.
But rather than promoting this as a victory for democracy, Republicans in the Lone Star State view it as a catastrophe. As a hypothetical, a higher voter turnout may be a good thing. But in reality, it’s horrible if this occurs in areas that lean Democratic.
What seems to concern Texas lawmakers the most is that the biggest chunk of grant money went to Democratic-heavy counties. Here’s how Lucas’s piece framed the issue:
“Texas became the seventh state so far to pass restrictions on private money going to election administration. The others are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas and Tennessee, according to the Foundation for Government Accountability, a watchdog group that monitors the issue. An analysis from another watchdog organization concluded that Joe Biden would have carried Texas over Donald Trump in November if the vote had been limited to counties that got private funds to administer their elections. ‘ZuckBucks affected roughly 74% of Texas residents by total population with grants given to 115 counties. If Texas’s election was limited only to those counties receiving the private funds, Joe Biden would have bested Donald Trump by roughly 270,000 votes,’ said the March report from the Public Interest Legal Foundation. Of course, votes in other counties were counted and Trump carried the state’s 38 electoral votes, beating Biden 52.1% to 46.5%, though Biden went on to collect enough electoral votes in other states to win the election.”
The problem with the law in Texas is that no one has presented a shred of evidence that the measures carried out across the state by county election boards swayed the votes of people in those regions in any way. In passing, the article briefly references the real reason why these areas received the most money: They’re the ones with the highest populations.
Texas has 254 counties. The story reported that 74% of the state’s population lives in 115 counties, less than half that total. This leaves 26% of Texas residents spread out across the remaining 139 counties.
Of course the largest portion of these funds will go to the most populous areas. The measures were designed to protect people during the pandemic. And counties with more individuals had a greater risk of spreading the infection and, thus, a more urgent need to take precautions.
So Texas Republicans are irked because the expanded voting opportunities succeeded at increasing Americans’ engagement with civic affairs. They’re mad because, in this sense, government actually worked!
If lawmakers are genuinely concerned about the potential for abuse, they could draft restrictions on how the money can be used. Or they could completely ban money from private groups for voting procedures while ensuring all election boards are equipped to implement these measures.
But this isn’t what Texas did. Legislators limited these grants to no more than $1,000 per person/group.
Of course, exceptions can be made. Grants of larger amounts can be accepted if this is approved by the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and speaker of the state House of Representatives, who just so happen to be all Republicans. Zuckerbucks, therefore, must be limited — but Koch-Dollars can flow like the Rio Grande into the coffers of GOP counties.
This isn’t an issue about how such money could corrupt the system. Texas lawmakers simply want to make sure it corrupts the right side. If they’re sincerely worried about how money influences public officials, are they going to ban lobbying and stop taking corporate donations?
The Daily Signal article included an incredibly odd quotation from someone decrying the use of grant funds by election boards nationwide. The fact that this statement made it into the story demonstrates the motivation behind the support for laws like the one passed in Texas.
J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation and a former Justice Department lawyer, said: “My goodness, you can’t let private people tell government officials what to do.”
Um, … The last time I checked, this was the essence of representative government. So when you hear legislators from GOP states claiming they’re not trying to suppress voting, don’t bet your last Zuckerbuck that they’re telling the truth.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to email@example.com. They also may follow him on Twitter: @WDT_OpEd.