Pennsylvania banned the use of private dollars to run elections last week after Governor Tom Wolf (D-PA) signed legislation from the Republican-led legislature.
SB 982 — sponsored by State Sen. Lisa Baker, a Republican who chairs the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee — prohibits officials from seeking funds from any nongovernmental entity for “the registration of voters or the preparation, administration or conducting of an election,” and creates an “election integrity grant program” by which the commonwealth government can help counties administer elections.
During the 2020 election cycle, the Center for Technology and Civic Life — a nonprofit backed by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg — distributed $25 million to county governments in Pennsylvania for the purpose of running elections, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Philadelphia County received more than $10.5 million from the Zuckerberg-funded nonprofit, while Allegheny County — the location of Pittsburgh, the commonwealth’s second-largest city — received over $2 million.
Roughly 22 states have banned “Zuck Bucks,” according to the Capital Research Center, while other states are presently debating bans. The IRS does not allow 501(c)(3) nonprofits to engage in “voter education or registration activities” that “have the effect of favoring a candidate.”
“We believe reform begins with prohibiting private groups from funding election administration. Voting is among our basic rights, and the responsibility for properly running and funding elections is vested in government,” Baker said in an interview with The Federalist. “No matter who on the outside is contributing, no matter their expressed motivations, millions of dollars coming in from national figures or organizations naturally raises suspicions of hidden agendas.”
According to the Capital Research Center, grant funding provided by the Center for Technology and Civic Life has been distributed in an overtly partisan manner. The organization funded 85% of the counties won by President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, meaning that a Biden-winning county was over three times more likely to be funded than a Trump-winning county.
The Foundation for Government Accountability, a nonpartisan think tank, was among the groups which lauded the new law. “The Pennsylvania House and Senate have made huge strides with the passage of SB 982 by protecting state elections through their support of commonsense election reforms,” CEO Tarren Bragdon said in a press release. “Senator Baker’s bill will greatly increase transparency and trust in the Keystone State’s democratic process.”
Pennsylvania — which President Joe Biden won by a slim 82,000 votes — is among the most closely watched midterm elections, especially as Democrats seek to retain control of the divided U.S. Senate.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, a celebrity cardiologist and Republican nominee, raised more than $19 million between March 17, 2021, and June 30, 2022, according to filings with the U.S. Federal Elections Commission. Although Lt. Governor John Fetterman — the former mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, and the commonwealth’s Democratic nominee — has not yet reported his second-quarter fundraising to the agency, his campaign told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he had raised $11 million between April and June.
Though Fetterman has been largely absent from the campaign trail due to a stroke he suffered days before the primary election in May, he still boasts 46% of the vote against Oz’s 37%, according to a USA Today Network and Suffolk University poll released last month. A more recent poll of voters 50 years old and above from AARP shows Oz with 46% and Fetterman with 49%, although 23% of respondents remain “persuadable.”