OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
The Wisconsin Senate has approved a Republican-backed bill that would ban private money from being used for election administration.
The bill, AB173, passed by a vote of 18 to 14.
The bill relates to private resources used for election administration, the appointment of election officials, and providing a penalty.
Below is a screenshot of the bill and what it entails:
This is a big deal.
A report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty found that private grants to Wisconsin Municipalities boosted turnout for Joe Biden in the 2020 election:
STATISTICAL ANALYSIS FINDS CTCL FUNDS INCREASED VOTER TURNOUT FOR JOE BIDEN BY AN AVERAGE OF 41 VOTES PER MUNICIPALITY
The News: A new report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) documents and analyzes the impact of private election administration grants to Wisconsin municipalities on the 2020 presidential election. More than 86% of the $10 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), funded in part by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, went to five Wisconsin cities. A statistical analysis of all CTCL grants finds the private money served to increase voter turnout for Joe Biden, but not Donald Trump.
- Join Us for a WILL Webinar on this report on Thursday, June 17.
The Quote: WILL Research Director, Will Flanders, said, “This analysis provides convincing evidence that the CTCL grants played a role in increasing turnout for Joe Biden in 2020. Wisconsin lawmakers should act to ensure local election administration isn’t captured by private money seeking partisan advantage.”
Diving Deeper: In July 2020, CTCL announced that it would be donating $6.3 million to five Wisconsin cities – Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Racine. That number would grow to $8.8 million for those five cities, while another $1.5 million was allocated to more than 190 Wisconsin municipalities. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have served as the impetus for private grants to fund local election administration in Wisconsin, an analysis of the impact of the grants reveals a partisan advantage.
- Wisconsin Municipalities Received Over $10 million from CTCL. WILL received records from 196 communities that received a total $10.3 million in funding from CTCL. The grants ranged from a high of $3.4 million for the City of Milwaukee to $2,212 in the Town of Mountain in Oconto County.
- Five Wisconsin Cities Received 86% of All CTCL Grant Funds. The five largest cities in the state (Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Racine) received nearly $8.8 million in CTCL grant funds.
- A Statistical Analysis Finds CTCL Spending Increased Turnout for Joe Biden. Areas of the state that received CTCL grants saw statistically significant increases in turnout for Joe Biden – 41 more votes, on average. CTCL spending did not result in statistically significant increases in turnout for Donald Trump.
Reform Proposal: Money in politics isn’t new. But private grants from non-partisan, but clearly ideological, organizations going into the coffers of municipal election administrators do represent a new frontier. By dumping large sums of money into strategically selected municipalities, groups seeking partisan advantage could, in effect, enlist local election administrators into get-out-the-vote operations that serve to help one candidate over another.
Legislation from Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and Representative Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee) would not ban private grants to municipalities but would require the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) to distribute private money equitably around the state. This is a sensible solution.