A Georgia Senate committee voted Monday to make it illegal for local governments to take donations to help them run elections, a reaction to millions of dollars contributed in 2020 by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The bill passed 4-2 along party lines, with Republicans saying it would reduce the influence of outside money on elections and Democrats opposing restrictions on resources to run elections.
Supporters of the idea said they want to stop so-called “Zuckerbucks” funding from Zuckerberg’s nonprofit organization, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which donated an estimated $43 million to Georgia counties during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The money funded items such as absentee ballot postage costs, election equipment, voter education and protective gear.
But opponents of the measure said the money was available to any county that applied for it, providing critical financial assistance in the absence of enough state funding.
Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Max Burns, the sponsor of Senate Bill 222, said he believes the money created inequalities among counties.
“My concern is they discriminated against some communities and rewarded others,” said Burns, a Republican from Sylvania.
DeKalb County elections board member Karli Swift said the money helped election workers do their jobs to serve all voters when resources were strained by a new voting system and a high-turnout presidential race.
“Counties are already being forced to bear the costs to maintain equipment that we were required to purchase by the state,” Swift told the committee. “Pursuing grant funding to supplement operating budgets is a standard and ethical practice for county governments across the state.”
Under the legislation, outside money could only be contributed to the state government. The State Election Board has proposed a plan to distribute funding to counties.
Though the Georgia election law passed in 2021 already bars direct outside funding of election operations, DeKalb County’s government accepted a $2 million grant this year and then distributed it to the county’s election office.
Much of the funding in 2020 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life went to Democratic-leaning counties, but several majority-Republican counties also benefited. The organization’s grants in 2020 included at least $9.4 million to DeKalb County, $6 million to Fulton County, $4.2 million to Gwinnett County, nearly $1.7 million to Douglas County, $765,000 to Cherokee County and $360,000 to Paulding County.
The legislation could soon be considered for a vote by the full Senate.
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