Republicans fight federal funding for college voter mobilization that Biden gave Democrat states

The Federal Work-Study program funds are "used to support the Biden Administration’s campaign efforts during the 2024 election cycle,” House committee chairs said.
An individual wearing an 'I Voted' sticker.

Republicans are pushing back against federal funds being used to promote get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activities among college students as Democrat-led states are taking advantage of the new Federal Work-Study (FWS) program focused on voter registration efforts.

Secretaries of state from Democratic-run states pushed the Biden administration for federal funds to be used in college GOTV activities, and Republicans are now fighting back against the funding in Congress and across GOP-led states.

On Monday, House Administration Committee Chairman Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., sent a letter to the Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman following reports of public universities in his home state taking advantage of federal funds for voter registration activities.

Steil asked for confirmation that the state universities won’t use taxpayer dollars for partisan GOTV efforts.

“I am sure you would agree that it should not be the prerogative of a public institution that receives funding from American taxpayers to lead partisan ‘get out the vote’ (GOTV) activities or to enlist the participation of self-identified partisan advocacy groups for voter registration drives,” Steil wrote.

“[T]he use of work-study funds for partisan purposes communicates to the public that their taxes are being used for partisan advocacy. The use of outside organizations with their own built-in political viewpoints has drawn considerable negative attention,” he later added.

“As we head into another election season, I ask for your assistance in guiding the Universities in a direction that avoids these pitfalls this year. I am also seeking your assistance in determining whether any federal funding sources, such as work-study programs, are being used in voter registration drives. These actions will help ensure that the Universities of Wisconsin will not use federal funding to support partisan GOTV efforts,” Steil continued.

As of publication time, Rothman has not responded publicly to Steil's questions.

In February, the Department of Education clarified a 2022 memo, explaining that FWS program funds can be used “to support voter registration activities.” 

The Education “Department is today clarifying that FWS funds may be used for employment by a Federal, State, local, or Tribal public agency for civic engagement work that is not associated with a particular interest or group…” according to the memo

“This work can include supporting broad-based get-out-the-vote activities, voter registration, providing voter assistance at a polling place or through a voter hotline, or serving as a poll worker,” the memo continued

The memo came after 18 secretaries of state, all of whom are Democrats except the Republican from Pennsylvania, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona last July requesting clarification of the 2022 memo.

The secretaries asked that Cardona clarify “that students can use their FWS awards to engage in non-partisan, pro-democracy activities, including registering voters on a non-partisan basis, working as non-partisan poll workers, and other nonpartisan civic activities, while working for government entities or non-party affiliated, non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations just as they now can while working directly for institutions of higher education.”

In early April, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita with 14 other Republican attorneys general wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in response to the February clarification memo.

The letter urges the department “to reconsider this guidance, as it offends restrictions on the federal-work study program and ignores the dangers that come with entangling public dollars in political functions.”

The correspondence notes that the memo violates federal law because “laudable activities like encouraging voter turnout and registering voters have to happen somewhere, and that somewhere decides elections. Your guidance effectively licenses colleges and universities to subsidize this activity—and potentially swing elections by choosing where to direct these funds—with taxpayer money. That approach violates limitations imposed by law.”

About a week after the Republicans' letter was sent, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) announced that his administration was implementing the U.S. Department of Education’s FWS program for students “to work in get-out-the-vote activities, election offices, polling places, and other nonpartisan civic engagement employment opportunities.”

The administration noted that the FWS program “pairs well with the existing Pennsylvania Campus Voting Challenge, a nonpartisan support and recognition program for higher education institutions with a commitment to increasing student voter participation and engagement on campuses across the Commonwealth.”

The challenge is conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of State “in collaboration with the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge.” ALL IN is an initiative of Civic Nation, a left-leaning nonprofit run by former Obama administration officials, according to InfluenceWatch.

Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project, previously told Just the News that it’s difficult to “get college students” to volunteer their time, rather than if they are paid. Because of this, the Biden administration is using federal resources and working with leftist “nonprofits, subsidizing them, making it easier to enlist students to support the program, and doing it for a particular demographic that’s overwhelmingly liberal.” 

In March, the chairs of both the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the House Administration Committee sent a letter to Cardona regarding their concerns about the clarified memo.

The committee chairs wrote that they “are deeply troubled” by the new memo and how FWS “funds can be used to support the Biden Administration’s campaign efforts during the 2024 election cycle.”

They urged the Biden administration to “retract” the memo “allowing taxpayer dollars to fund get-out-the-vote activities.”

The newly implemented FWS program appeared similar to “Bidenbucks,” the lawmakers also noted. In March 2021, Biden signed Executive Order 14019, often referred to by critics as “Bidenbucks,” which alludes to "Zuckerbucks," the approximately $400 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg widely alleged to have been funneled through left-leaning nonprofits to turn out the Democratic vote in the 2020 presidential election. 

According to the Executive Order, “The head of each agency shall evaluate ways in which the agency can, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, promote voter registration and voter participation,” including "soliciting and facilitating approved, nonpartisan third-party organizations and State officials to provide voter registration services on agency premises.”

Similar to “Bidenbucks,” “Zuckerbucks" came to notice when the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) poured about $350 million into local elections offices managing the 2020 election, with most of the funds donated to the nonprofit by Zuckerberg. The nonprofit has claimed its 2020 election grants — colloquially known as "Zuckerbucks" — were allocated without partisan preference to make voting safer amid the pandemic.

Instead, a House investigation found that less than 1% of the funds were spent on personal protective equipment. The lion's share of the funds were spent on get-out-the-vote efforts and registrations in mostly Democratic neighborhoods.