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Republicans in Congress are clamoring to take action after Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated hundreds of millions of dollars last year to a group that distributed money to election precincts nationwide in a seemingly partisan fashion.
Rep. Claudia Tenney, a New York Republican who is the chairwoman of the House Election Integrity Caucus, told the Washington Examiner in a phone interview on Tuesday a group of GOP lawmakers is putting together legislation that would strip an organization's not-for-profit status if it uses money “to interfere in our election process.”
Tenney and 13 other GOP lawmakers sent a letter to the organization’s executive director, Tiana Epps-Johnson, earlier this week citing more than $350 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life distributed to 2,500 election officials and government agencies before the 2020 election.
Zuckerberg and his wife gave $350 million to the group last year, with the donations billed as part of a commitment to ensuring "safe and reliable" voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Tenney singled out the contributions as being a focus of concern of transparency.
In their letter, the GOP lawmakers called for CTCL to disclose its financial 990s because the organization delayed doing so despite being under a legal obligation as a 501(c)(3), according to the congresswoman from New York.
The organization’s website states fiscal year Feb. 2020-Jan. 2021's documents will be available “no later than" Dec. 15, but Tenney said this deadline has already been pushed back multiple times. The CTCL also made a list public of all of the counties that received funding, and the donations ranged in amounts from $5,000 to $19 million, which went to New York City.
“So legislation is tied to taxation and not-for-profit status, and that's the way we're going to be phrasing it because that's probably the best way to go at a not-for-profit is to lose their status as a nonprofit, to be using money to interfere in our election process, which to us is a way [of] electioneering, which is typically illegal and also undermines election integrity,” the congresswoman added.
Tenney argued such donations are "interfering with government and official government acts. And that's why it's really concerning to me that this type of thing is happening. There isn't a First Amendment right by a not-for-profit to be able to spend money on a government."
The letter said 92% of the funds went to “overwhelming Democrat-leaning precincts." When asked about how that figure was calculated, the lawmaker said, “We know generally where the money went. We don't know specifically how it was spent.”
Legislators also included anecdotal testimony from election officials in various states who claimed CTCL didn’t put many restrictions on how the money should be spent even though it was designated as “COVID response grants.”
Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan donated $250 million to CTCL, the group announced Sept. 1, and another $50 million to CEIR, an election-focused organization.
"The more I've focused on this election, the more important I've felt it is both to make sure local counties and states have the resources they need to handle these unprecedented conditions and that people are aware that the infrastructure is in place to make every vote count so they can accept the result of the election as legitimate," Zuckerberg told Axios at the time.
This was followed by a $100 million contribution to CTCL in October.
A spokesperson for the couple told the Washington Examiner they "stepped up to close a funding gap" and noted they were not privy to distributing the funds.
"When our nation’s election infrastructure faced unprecedented challenges last year due to the pandemic, Mark and Priscilla stepped up to close a funding gap and granted $350 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a non-partisan, 501 (c)(3) organization, which issued an open call to local jurisdictions across the country and provided funding for all jurisdictions that were determined to be legitimate," the spokesperson said.
“Nearly 2,500 election jurisdictions from 49 states applied for and received funds, including urban, suburban, rural, and exurban counties,” the spokesperson added. “While Mark and Priscilla provided an overall grant to CTCL to ensure funding was available, they did not participate in the process to determine which jurisdictions received funds, and as a (c)(3) CTCL is prohibited from engaging in partisan activities.”
Representatives from CTCL did not respond to requests for comment from the Washington Examiner.
The other lawmakers who signed on to Tenney's letter are Reps. Mike Garcia, who co-chairs the House Election Integrity Caucus; Elise Stefanik of New York; John Rose of Tennessee; Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin; Scott Fitzgerald of Wisconsin; Andy Harris of Maryland; Clay Higgins of Louisiana; Greg Murphy of North Carolina; Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin; Pete Stauber of Minnesota; Brian Babin of Texas; Doug LaMalfa of California; and Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania.
House Republicans are in the minority and need at least partial bipartisan support to pass legislation.
When asked about the prospects of having bipartisan support, Tenney said, "We may [have bipartisan support.] We haven't put it out yet, so I know there's some Democrats who are concerned about it. Our biggest problem with Democrats is hopefully they'll have the courage to get, uh, onboard, this issue."
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Original Author: Mike Brest