Green Bay, Wisconsin offers a stunning illustration of the pernicious influence of private money on public elections, and is a stark reminder of the need for integrity at the ballot box and in the counting room.
Wisconsin, like the urban areas of all other battleground states, was targeted with millions of dollars from a far-left organization called the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), which spent most of 2020 doling out $350 million it received from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and additional millions from Google, The Skoll Foundation, and other left-leaning donors. Prior to last year, CTCL was an obscure nonprofit with an annual budget of around $1 million. But it grew out of the George Soros-backed New Organizing Institute, and its leaders were well-connected in the world of left-wing political activism.
The Zuckerberg money was ostensibly intended to help cities and counties cope with pandemic-related expenses, but the terms of CTCL grant agreements made public as result of litigation filed by the Amistad Project reveal that the money came with strict conditions dictating the way elections would be managed in that jurisdiction. That’s a direct usurpation of authority granted expressly to state legislatures by the United State Constitution, and it allowed private interests to involve government in a partisan goal of turning out voters to support their agenda.
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CTCL’s primary entry point into Wisconsin came through Racine, which received a $100,000 grant that came with financial incentives to recruit four other liberal enclaves in the otherwise-solidly red state. Eventually, CTCL awarded a total of $6.3 million to Racine, Madison, Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Green Bay.
As we now know from documents revealed through investigations, open records requests, and ongoing Amistad Project litigation, Green Bay’s city clerk — the person tasked with administering elections under state law — recognized that there was something fishy about the offer from the start. Unfortunately, she was overruled and driven out by the city’s far-left mayor, who replaced her with his former chief of staff. The new clerk accepted the grant and then proceeded to effectively cede control over the entire election to a representative of the National Vote at Home Institute (NVHI), which has close ties and a shared history with CTCL.
Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, a former Democrat presidential elector and an influential left-wing power broker, was the NVHI’s point person in Wisconsin. Emails show that he was given extraordinary power over election administration, such as helping to set up the centralized counting center. One email even indicates that he exercised primary control over access to the counting center, instructing staff at the venue not to unlock the room until he was present.
Spitzer-Rubenstein also played an active role in “curing” rejected mail-in ballots — a process that involves correcting flaws such as incomplete or inaccurate information that would invalidate those ballots under state election law. Voters elsewhere in the state did not benefit from the same sort of assistance; their votes simply were not counted if they made mistakes when filling out absentee or mail-in ballots.
In short, Green Bay’s elections were administered by one far-left activist group and funded by another far-left activist group, solely at the discretion of a highly-partisan mayor. It was nothing less than a “shadow government” operating without legal authority at the direction of private interests. Even worse, the public didn’t find out about it until months after the election was certified.
Rules were arbitrarily changed at the last minute, laws were broken, and a two-tiered election system was constructed through a public-private partnership that operated with practically no scrutiny or oversight.
The same pattern played out in urban centers of battleground states such as Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — CTCL poured money into the left-leaning urban core of those states, providing benefits and advantages to the voters in these democrat strongholds that were not available to voters in other parts of the same state.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, the Democrat secretary of state — who has since resigned — turned a blind eye for months while left-leaning counties used CTCL funds to help them identify and “cure” defective absentee and mail-in ballots, just like Spitzer-Rubenstein did in Green Bay. Conservative-leaning counties abstained from this practice, correctly believing it to be a violation of state law. On the night before Election Day, the secretary of state issued guidance decreeing that the practice was valid — an obvious ploy to preempt litigation, since by that point the directive could not have had any practical effect even if it had carried legal legitimacy.
Government using private funds to establish a two-tiered election system is a violation of a basic tenant of American law – that all Americans should be treated equally before the law. Government targeting a demographic to turn out the vote is the opposite side of the same coin as government targeting a demographic to suppress the vote and both violate equal protection.
Such actions, we hold, violate state law and federal law. If courts refuse to act, however, state legislatures must.
That’s why it’s disappointing to see that some legislatures aren’t fully grasping the nature of the problem. In Georgia, lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban private funding unless approved by city and county governments — but that’s exactly the way Zuckerberg and CTCL insinuated themselves into the 2020 elections. Only public deliberation by the people’s representatives can provide the transparency we need to have complete confidence in the integrity of our elections.
We will continue to use the power at our disposal to demand documents from Zuckerberg, CTCL, the National Vote at Home Institute, Rock The Vote, and other organizations that improperly and unlawfully interfered in the administration of last year’s elections. Americans have a right to know how their votes were counted.
In the 2020 election Americans were kicked out of the counting room and a billionaire allowed in the counting room. It must not happen again.
Phill Kline is the Former Kansas Attorney General. He currently serves as Pulpit Pastor of Amherst Baptist Church, a law school professor, and director of the Amistad Project.