Georgia State House bans private funds to local elections offices

·2 min read
Nick Wass/AP

Local elections offices in Georgia would not be allowed to accept donations from private sources to help run their operations under a Republican-backed bill that has passed the state House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 222 cleared the lower chamber along party lines 100-69 late Monday night, the last bill lawmakers took up in a marathon next-to-last day of this year’s legislative session.

The legislation stems from complaints from Republicans in Georgia and other states about private donations flowing into elections offices in Democratic counties, notably a $350 million contribution by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to the nonprofit Center for Technology and Civic Life during the 2020 election.

“It’s common sense for us to make sure we’re banning private money from public elections,” said Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, who carried the bill in the House.

But House Democrats said cutting off local elections offices from access to grants from private nonprofits would leave already resource-poor county elections officials ill equipped to deal with thousands of challenges to voters’ qualifications out-of-state groups have been filing since the 2020 elections.

“The primary intent of these challenges is to gum up the works … to divert elections workers from their duties,” said Rep. Saira Draper, D-Atlanta. “Counties will be cut off from the funds they need to do their jobs.”

Draper said banning local governments from accepting private donations would leave the State Election Board in charge of allocating funds to all 159 Georgia counties, a blow to local control.

“Why do we presume the State Election Board knows what our counties need better than our counties?” she asked.

Because of changes the House made to the bill, it now heads back to the Senate, which must act on it before the General Assembly adjourns for the year on Wednesday night if it is to become law.