A newly released report details previously unknown efforts by local Montana election administrators to kill legislation that would have prohibited state officials from accepting and using private funds in the conduction of elections.
Issued by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) earlier this month, the report unveils extensive conversations among county election officials detailing collective efforts to squash a bill (SB 335) filed in the state legislature that would have effectively outlawed funding of election offices from groups such as the Mark Zuckerberg-backed Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), which distributed approximately $1.7 million across 21 Montana counties in the lead up to the 2020 election.
As previously reported by Federalist contributor William Doyle, CTCL spent millions on “financing the infiltration of election offices at the city and county level by left-wing activists, and using those offices as a platform to implement preferred administrative practices, voting methods, and data-sharing agreements, as well as to launch intensive outreach campaigns in areas heavy with Democratic voters” in the months prior to the 2020 contest.
Following the measure’s introduction in the Montana Senate in early 2021, the listserv emails sent between local election administrators and documented in the PILF report reveal a lobbying effort led by the Montana Association of Counties and Yellowstone County to convince legislators “to try and kill” legislation such as SB 335 that sought to further bolster election integrity in the state.
“I am writing in opposition to SB 335,” an email sent to Montana state senators by a Yellowstone County official read. “Yellowstone County saved the taxpayers $320,593.00 in fiscal year 20-21 by accessing nongovernmental grants and this bill would disallow a critical avenue of funding in the future. … Passage of this bill only puts more of a burden on local tax payers via unfunded mandates. … Please vote no!”
Following the death of SB 335 in the Senate, the communication logs obtained by PILF show county officials celebrating the bill’s demise, while simultaneously congratulating Yellowstone County on their successful lobbying efforts in preventing the measure’s passage.
“Great job [Yellowstone County]!” said messages from Sanders and Fallon County officials.
“Yeah! That is so awesome! Great work [Yellowstone County]!” said another from a Prairie County representative.
The report goes on to debunk arguments made by county election officials in their support for private funding, such as the claim that the CTCL grants saved taxpayers money. As noted by PILF, the aforementioned counties are “sometimes operating with $250,000 to $750,000 annual budgets for election operations” and “only learned about what they thought were $5,000 grants one month before [Election Day], according to the initial email chatter.”
“The taxpayer savings argument is even more disingenuous when reading the terms of the CTCL grants,” the report reads. “In every letter to a jurisdiction receiving funds, recipients must agree that they will ‘not supplant previously appropriated funds. The Grantee shall not reduce the budget of the [Election Department] or fail to appropriate or provide previously budgeted funds to the Election Department for the term of this grant.’ In other words, using the grant to give a direct break to the local taxpayer would violate the CTCL’s own rules and eventually force a refund.”
Moreover, of the seven Montana jurisdictions that received more than the average $5,000 CTCL grant, “only one (Lewis and Clark) managed to spend all funds before the first deadline.” So, while “a minority of counties were documented to be pressuring the Montana Senate to kill the Zuckbucks ban by arguing how the grants saved their collective necks in 2020, they still had not spent all the money they were given.”
“It is deeply troubling how addicted election officials are to this Zuckerberg money,” said PILF President J. Christian Adams in a statement on the report. “An important bill banning the private funding of elections failed to pass in large part because of these officials’ opposition to the bill. Montanans’ election process is still up for sale to the highest bidder.”
While Montana election administrators may not have known it at the time, Zuckerberg’s targeted election funding played a greater role in the 2020 election than previously realized. As detailed by Federalist Editor-in-Chief Mollie Hemingway in her New York Times bestselling book “Rigged: How the Media, Big Tech, and the Democrats Seized Our Elections,” Zuckerberg “didn’t just help Democrats by censoring their political opponents,” his financing of “liberal groups running partisan get-out-the-vote operations” was ultimately “the means by which [Democrat] activists achieved their ‘revolution’ and changed the course of the 2020 election.”
“It was a genius plan,” Hemingway said. “And because no one ever imagined that a coordinated operation could pull off the privatization of the election system, laws were not built to combat it.”
As of August 2022, 24 states have either banned or severely restricted the use of private funds in the conduction of state and local elections.
Shawn Fleetwood is a Staff Writer for The Federalist and a graduate of the University of Mary Washington. He also serves as a state content writer for Convention of States Action and his work has been featured in numerous outlets, including RealClearPolitics, RealClearHealth, and Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnFleetwood