'Zuckerbucks' didn’t throw the 2020 election
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‘Zuckerbucks’ didn’t throw the 2020 election


In the lead‐up to the 2020 election, philanthropies backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan provided grants to local election offices around the country to aid in administrative tasks, voter communication, and other work made more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic — a program sometimes nicknamed Zuckerbucks. Some Republicans have charged that the grants were improperly
meant to assist Democrats
by differentially increasing turnout of their likely voters, especially in bigger cities. Many backers of former President Donald Trump took the episode to heart as part of what they imagine to have been the rigging of the 2020 election.

As I’ve
noted in this space before
, there is reason to doubt that the grants, to the extent that they raised turnout at all, made any difference in the election’s major outcomes. In Wisconsin, one of the closest states,
a study by
the right‐of‐center Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty estimated that any extra turnout, if measurable at all, would not have been enough to swing the election. (In addition, as a legal matter, courts will not throw out otherwise lawfully cast votes even if they were encouraged by a voter turnout effort that violated some rule.)

In due course various complaints were filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) characterizing the grants as improper donations meant to influence an election. This summer, however, the FEC
voted
to find no reason for the allegations and dismiss the complaint, and more recently it explained its reasoning in detail in
a 20‐​page analysis
. In both cases its decision was by a unanimous 6–0 vote.

That’s significant because, as many readers know, the division of the six‐member FEC between three D and three R appointees regularly results in even splits on issues that divide experienced party lawyers. That’s more or less the way the commission is designed to operate. Yet not one of the three Republican commissioners found reason to support the allegations.

Some states have lately chosen to ban these sorts of private donations to public election agencies, and to repeat a point I’ve
made before
, I think it’s perfectly legitimate to have a debate about
restricting them
. (Shikha Dalmia has defended the grants
here
.) Even when the grants are offered to all comers, many localities will decline to participate, so at least in principle they might wind up stoking turnout in uneven ways. That their impact might have proved generally benign this time does not mean it will remain so in the future. They might, for example, afford ideologically committed donors an “in” to influence or at least scope out local elections policy. If you want to see many advocates on both sides do a fast switch, wait till some philanthropist offers to foot the bill for localities to prosecute, say, unlawful
ballot harvesting
. (
Compare.
)

But claims that the Zuckerberg grants were part of some vast scheme to rig the outcome? The evidence is simply not there. Another Stop the Steal theory is down for the count.

This article was originally published by the Cato Institute. It is republished here with Cato’s kind permission.





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Written by Walter Olson

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