States fight against foreign funding of ballot votes, despite leftist Swiss billionaire’s funding

Soros 2.0? Funds from a foreign national have been given to progressive nonprofits that campaign for left-wing issues.

Published: February 6, 2024 11:00pm

Some states are fighting back against foreign donations in elections as a Swiss billionaire’s influence in funding nonprofits that support progressive ballot measures has been highlighted.

The state legislatures of Arizona, Georgia, and Ohio are all considering bills to prevent foreign funds from being directly or indirectly donated to ballot measures. Wyoming has also warned county clerks to beware of foreign nationals looking to influence election administration, as Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, a left-wing donor, lives in the state.

Wyss, who lives in the U.S. but is not an American citizen, started two nonprofits: the Wyss Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, and the Berger Action Fund, a 501(c)4 organization.

According to a report by Americans for Public Trust, both organizations have donated $475 million to influence U.S. politics since the Wyss Foundation’s founding in 1998 and the Berger Action Fund’s creation in 2007.

Wyss is also on the board of directors for the Center for American Progress, which was founded by John Podesta, who was the chairman of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. While foreign nationals are barred by law from donating to candidates and campaigns, they have not been prohibited from funding organizations that sponsor ballot measures.

Wyss’ nonprofits have given $265 million to Arabella Advisors nonprofits, including $57.8 million to New Venture Fund, according to a report by Americans for Public Trust. New Venture Fund is the largest nonprofit created by the Arabella Advisors network.

The Capital Research Center reported that New Venture Fund gave the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) — which was funded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2020 — nearly $25 million.

Because of this indirect foreign funding, some states are trying to make such donations illegal. In late January, two Ohio Republican state senators introduced a bill “to prohibit foreign nationals from making contributions or expenditures regarding ballot issue campaigns.”

The legislation was introduced a couple weeks after Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) called for “immediate action” from lawmakers “to close a ‘foreign influence’ loophole” with regard to “bankrolling campaigns for or against proposed statewide ballot issues.”

LaRose’s call to lawmakers included a graphic showing how Wyss’ nonprofits sent funds to organizations that push for progressive ballot measures in Ohio.

“In reviewing the campaign finance records associated with two statewide constitutional ballot issues in 2023, my staff compiled evidence showing foreign nationals have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into 501(c) entities, which then spent millions of dollars in Ohio to influence the outcomes of these proposed constitutional amendments,” LaRose said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a bill was introduced in the Georgia state Senate in late January that “prohibit[s] foreign nationals from contributing to candidates or campaign committees” and “candidates and campaign committees from accepting contributions from foreign nationals.”

The Georgia bill additionally requires foreign agents to declare any funds donated to “to bring about the approval or rejection by the voters of any proposed constitutional amendment, a state-wide referendum, or a proposed question which is to appear on the ballot."

A bill was also introduced in the Arizona state Senate last week based on model legislation by the Honest Elections Project. The bill would require any person, candidate, corporation, or committee that “wishes to enter into an agreement or program with a government entity to provide funds or in-kind goods or services for election administration, to certify to the Secretary of State that they are not receiving foreign donations, directly or indirectly.”

Last August, Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray (R) warned county clerks about “any attempts made by third parties to fund the administration of elections in Wyoming.”

Gray mentioned the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, a project of CTCL, saying that the source of the organization’s funding includes “ potentially foreign actors living here in Wyoming.”

The alliance is sometimes referred to by critics as “Zuckbucks 2.0.” “Zuckbucks” or "Zuckerbucks" are terms used for the injection of private money into public election administration.

CTCL poured about $350 million into local elections offices managing the 2020 election, with most of the funds donated to the nonprofit by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The nonprofit has claimed its 2020 election grants — which were the first funds to be called "Zuckerbucks" — were allocated without partisan preference to make voting safer amid the pandemic.

However, a House Republican investigation found that less than 1% of the funds were spent on personal protective equipment. Most of the funds were focused on get-out-the-vote efforts and registrations.

Following controversy surrounding the disproportionate private funding funneled to Democratic jurisdictions and claims that the imbalance helped sway the 2020 election in Biden's favor, 27 states have either restricted or banned the use of private money to fund elections, while 12 counties have also restricted or banned the funds, according to the Capital Research Center.

In 2022, CTCL created a new project called the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, which localities can join as members. The alliance awards funds to counties and municipalities under the Centers for Election Excellence program. The alliance will provide $80 million over five years "to envision, support, and celebrate excellence in U.S. election administration," according to CTCL.

According to CTCL’s website, New Venture Fund is one of the organizations that has contributed funds to the nonprofit.

CTCL’s IRS 990 form for 2019-2020 lists New Venture Fund as a contributor, but redacted the name so that a word search of the document must be conducted to find it. New Venture Fund contributed $141,400, according to the IRS form. The same amount was sent to CTCL from New Venture Fund during the prior year, per another redacted IRS 990 form.

The Wyss Foundation, New Venture Fund, and CTCL didn’t respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

In August, Marnee Banks, a spokesperson for both the Wyss Foundation and Berger Action Fund, told Fox News that the groups "do not support or oppose political candidates or parties or engage in political campaigns."

"They comply with all rules governing their activities and have strict policies prohibiting grants from being used for get-out-the-voter activities or voter registration," Banks continued. "Additionally, both groups support increasing transparency in our campaign finance system through the DISCLOSE Act."

"The Wyss Foundation and Berger Action Fund support projects to increase access to public lands, lower the cost of health care, and address income inequality,” she added. “In Wyoming, we partnered with local officials and indigenous communities to help preserve more than 58,000 acres of land in the Hoback Basin for hunting, fishing, and recreation."

Jason Snead, Honest Elections Project’s executive director, told Just the News on Monday that the state bills to prohibit foreign influence in elections shouldn’t have been needed, as such funds shouldn’t have been accepted to begin with.

“From my perspective, this is one thing that shouldn't take a ban, that shouldn't take a law to tell election administrations to not join programs with foreign funding,” Snead said. "Ballot measures shouldn't take foreign money.”

However, he noted that these bills are a “great first step to solve the problem.”

Snead added that Ohio may have three or four ballot measures for voters to decide on in November 2024, which could include allowing ranked-choice voting, increasing the minimum wage, an overhaul of state elections that would benefit the left, and redistricting. Some of these measures are funded by nonprofits that Wyss' organizations have supported.

"The left is seeing" ballot measures "as an opportunity not just for turnout, but to change fundamentally how elections run in the key state of Ohio," Snead said. They are "weaponizing the ballot measure process," which will "only get worse. It's important for states to look at this."

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