Support Just the News

Help Fund Honest Journalism


Wisconsin bill targets unequal private funding of elections, a major concern in 2020

Democratic governor expected to veto GOP-passed measure to require state to distribute private funding equitably.

Updated: June 13, 2021 - 11:04pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

A bill passed this week by the Wisconsin State Assembly would forbid local municipalities from accepting private funds for election management, directing those funds to pass through the state government and be equitably distributed throughout Wisconsin.

The measure is a response to ongoing concerns over the millions in private election funding poured into the state by the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a Chicago-based nonprofit heavily funded by Facebook co-founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Passed largely on party-line votes in both the state House and Senate, the bill is likely to be nixed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

The legislation directs that, with few exceptions, "No official or agent of a county or municipality may apply for or accept any donation or grant of private resources for purposes of election administration."

The bill would require that any private election funding in the state go through the Wisconsin Elections Commission to be distributed "to each municipality in [the] state on a per capita basis." Any funds expended by the commission would have to be approved by the state Joint Finance Committee. 

The legislation's equitable distribution measures "were drafted and introduced in response to the concerns that emerged following the windfall of private funds from the Center for Tech and Civic Life for the 2020 presidential election," Republican state Sen. Duey Stroebel, a cosponsor of the bill, told Just the News.

"These concerns grew as evidence began to emerge revealing that these funds were allocated disproportionately to a select group of Wisconsin cities and had influenced how the election was administered in those cities," he said. 

The Center for Tech and Civic Life's major funding of Wisconsin election administration has been the subject of intense criticism and scrutiny starting last summer when it announced an initiative to pour millions into the election systems of several cities in the state, all of them Democratic strongholds. 

With the help of Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, who eventually funneled $350 million to CTCL, the group expanded its funding programs to numerous other cities and jurisdictions in Wisconsin and across the country. Critics have pointed to its heavy funding of the Wisconsin Democratic districts as a possible deliberate scheme to throw an advantage to Democrats in the state that Joe Biden eventually won by about 20,000 votes. 

Stroebel pointed to a report earlier this week by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty which determined that "roughly 86% of the $10 million spent by CTCL in Wisconsin [during] the 2020 presidential election went to the state's five largest cities." 

"This flies in the face of the principles of equality and uniformity that are fundamental to the integrity of Wisconsin's election system," he argued.

The WILL report determined that "for President Biden there was a statistically significant increase in turnout in cities that received CTCL grants." Research director Will Flanders told Just the News that the organization estimates that Biden received over 8,300 votes as a result of the grants. 

Flanders expressed doubt that the bill would ultimately become law in the state. 

"While we're of course encouraging the Governor to sign it, we don't expect him to do so," he said.