May 12, 2023 at 12:57 p.m.

County board reaffirms acceptance of outside assets

Resident asked to disallow private election grants and gifts, termed “Zuckerbucks”

By DENISE MARTIN | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment
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A citizen questioning the county’s official stance on what the GOP in America has generically dubbed “Zuckerbucks” was reassured by the County Board May 3 that policy exists to impede use of private funds for elections here

That was not to say that  four of the five commissioners— someday in the future might sanction an elections-focused donation— but the five Board members all stated they would not support this type of donation should it ever arise.  

Non-government contributions to support election operations in and around the COVID-19 era,  developed into a political lightning rod.  As measures to allow voters to participate in the 2020 election in the midst of a pandemic grew costly, a number of philanthropic organizations made grants available to lighten the load on thousands of precincts. So-called Zuckerbucks were not the sole outside financial support made available to polling sites. The New York Times reported 2,500 plus grants were distributed for elections operations.  There were outside funding sources sought in 23 states.

Believers of the ‘stolen election’ claims targeted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife’s donations in particular, and argued unsuccessfully in lawsuit filings and declarations in press releases that only “taxpayer revenue” can ensure the integrity of voting operations. 

Chisago County did not benefit from 2020 philanthropy meant for elections, but seven other Minnesota counties are on the giving list of elections grants, with many Minnesota cities too.  The Center for Tech & Civic Life acted as a flow through of $350 million.  The “Zuckerbucks” program ended with the covid-era one time effort, because it was meant to be temporary.  The New York Times piece cites the Alliance for Election Excellence as a current organization overseeing grants designed to support the elections system needs.

In a 2020-2021 report put out by a non-profit administering the flow-through of funding the precinct of Center City received $5,000.  City council was advised the funds were used for  public health measures, sanitizing voting stations, for buying extra ballot marking utensils and for election judge training and extra hours.

Theodore Hansen of Wyoming asked the commissioners last week in a public forum, to disallow private elections grants/gifts.  He heard the County Board has a 15-year old policy that donations over $500 require a vote of acceptance of at least four of the five commissioners.  

It was explained that donations and gifts are not going away.   Outside donations and grants are welcomed but ordinarily are  targeted;  frequently designated for the sheriff’s K9 unit, the Childrens’ Water Festival,  or Project Lifesaver.  Also, for example, Chisago County recently took delivery of dozens of emergency AED units from a private organization. 

Hansen was assured the commissioners will never  sit still for even the perception of impropriety to the elections process.  However, the Board will embrace the case-by-case supermajority vote on acceptance of outside assets— and there was no motion to revise policy to add “prohibition” of certain grants and gifts, as requested by Hansen.



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